Lunch Bunch

Tom Bachtell

Americans sometimes dread December holiday office parties. In Denmark, however, the annual Christmas office lunch is a be-loved tradition, almost a tribal affair—a festive repast enabling Danes to relieve some of the gloom that descends over their country when winter brings its long, dark, damp days. Restaurant reservations are made months in advance. The favored places are generally small and unassuming. "You can recognize them," says one Dane, "by their white linen tablecloths, fresh flowers, burning candles, eternal smell of tobacco, voices rising and falling—and their laughter." Clients expect everything to be in place, just as it was last year, and the year before, and the year before that. No changes in decor are allowed.

The menu remains virtually unchanged, too: The feast is sure to include roast duck, apple-and-prune-stuffed goose, sausages and frikadeller (pork and veal dumplings), boiled potatoes, sweet-and-sour red cabbage, smoked eel, and of course herring. Kanalen, a charming establishment in Copenhagen's Christianshavn quarter, features a holiday buffet with 15 different herring dishes. Everyone is expected to try each one (as well as everything else), and still have dessert—ris a l´amande, a rice pudding fluffy with whipped cream, thick with chopped almonds, doused in cherry sauce.

Such lunches, needless to say, aren't eat-and-run affairs. They typically begin at noon and last till midnight, a virtual marathon of eating, toasting, and singing. With aquavit and beer flowing freely, a taxi is the only sensible way to get home. Once their headaches go away, however, the revelers are ready for the next major event of the season: the Christmas Eve dinner, which in turn is followed by another big lunch, on Christmas Day—with yet more partying, eating, and drinking to come. It's no wonder that Denmark all but shuts down during Christmas week.