Denmark’s Great Prayer Day: 7 things to know

Friday is a national holiday, but just what is Great Prayer Day and what’s the deal with those wheat buns? Here is The Local’s guide to this special Danish day.

Denmark’s Great Prayer Day: 7 things to know
Great Prayer Day is still a big day for confirmations. Photo: Colourbox
Hans Bagger1. It was invented by a Roskilde bishop
The idea for Great Prayer Day came from Hans Bagger, a bishop in Roskilde from 1675 to 1693. Within his first two years of service, he implemented three additional days for praying and fasting into a calendar already full of holy days. When all of that time spent fasting and praying began to interfere with actually getting things done, some of the lesser days were rolled into one of Bagger’s three additions and Great Prayer Day was born. It was instituted into law by King Christian V in 1686.
2. It used to be more than ‘Great’
The original name for Great Prayer Day, or Store Bededag in Danish, was “extraordinary general prayer day”. 
3. The date moves
Great Prayer Day is always held on the fourth Friday after Easter, meaning that its calendar date varies from year to year. The earliest possible date is April 17th and the latest is May 21st. This year’s falls on April 22nd, an improvement over last year when it fell on May 1st, thus coinciding with International Labour Day and resulting in one fewer day off for some workers. 
In 2017, Great Prayer Day will be on May 12th. 

Photo: Colourbox
4. It started the night before to ensure people won’t be drunk
In the early years, Great Prayer Day was serious business. When church bells began ringing at 6pm on the evening before, it was a signal to shut down all commerce, gaming and entertainment. This was to ensure that when people showed up for church services the next day – and they would, since it was obligatory – they would arrive both on time and sober. 

Photo: Colourbox
5. You eat warm buns
With that ban on commerce after 6pm, enterprising bakers decided to make extra wheat buns in advance of the day in order to tide people over. People would buy the buns on Thursday and then warm them up on Friday. As the years went on, the tradition of eating warm buns on Great Prayer Day remained although it has shifted to eating them on the evening before. 
Make some yourself with this recipe

Photo: Colourbox
6. A good time to take a walk or get confirmed
Beyond the buns, there are few traditions associated with Great Prayer Day. In the old days, people in Copenhagen would go for a walk to hear the church bells. Today some people will still use the holiday as an occasion to take a stroll along Langelinie, the ramparts around Christianshavn or Kastellet. 
To this day, Great Prayer Day also remains one of the biggest days of the year for church confirmations.
7. The holiday could be in jeopardy
In 2012 there was serious discussion about dropping Great Prayer Day as a way to boost production. The idea was introduced at a time when former PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s government was proposing to extend the average Dane’s workday by 12 minutes to increase productivity and finance the nation’s generous welfare system. 
Labour unions were not wild about the government’s 12-minute plan and so attention was turned to eliminating a public holiday. Great Prayer Day was singled out as the likely victim, and it was suggested that it should be moved to Sunday rather than being a day off work. 
The idea was eventually dropped during the course of the government’s three-way negotiations with labour unions and employers but talk about increasing Denmark’s productivity and competitiveness never really goes away. So take advantage of the day off while you can!
Note to readers: This article was originally published in 2015. 

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Danes flout travel advice to visit Swedish summer houses

Kirsten, a Dane from Copenhagen, has been spending her weekends at her wooden holiday house in the Skåne countryside throughout Denmark's lockdown -- and to the irritation of Swedes barred from travelling in the other direction, she is far from unusual.

Danes flout travel advice to visit Swedish summer houses
Kirsten enjoying coffee on her terrace in Skåne. Photo: Richard Orange
“We chose not to follow the government's recommendation because we thought we have important things to do here and we don't socialize with our neighbours at this moment,” she explains when The Local visits her at her house near the village or Rörum in the Swedish holiday district of Österlen. 
“So we get out of Copenhagen and we stay at our own house and in our garden and don't talk to anyone. So we're even safer here than in Copenhagen.”
She points out that the head of the Danish Health Authority, Søren Brostrøm, had said from the start that closing borders had been a “political” decision, which had not been recommended by health experts.  
Since Denmark closed its borders on March 14th, Danish residents  have officially been advised not to cross the border into Sweden unless it is “strictly necessary”, even if the latest advice from the foreign ministry is that they do not need to quarantine. 
When Denmark opened the border to tourists from the Nordic countries on June 18th, it left every county in Sweden apart from Västerbotten off its list of “open regions”, meaning the travel advisory for Danes still applies to Skåne. 
The updated guidelines on July 4th expanded the list of Swedish “open regions” to Blekinge and Kronoberg. 
But crossing the Øresund Bridge and driving out to southeastern Skåne been part of Kirsten and her husband's weekly ritual since they bought the house 15 years ago, and it's easy to see why they would be reluctant to leave the house and its beautiful garden untended. 
“I have to take care of my kitchen garden and my greenhouse,” she says pointing to an area — fenced in to keep out deer and wild boar — which is brimming with strawberries, rocket and unusual varieties of cabbage. 
“It would be two or three times as expensive to buy a home in Denmark,” she adds. “We come here all year round, so it's not just a summer house for us.”
For most of the lockdown period, no one really seemed to mind that Danes were visiting their holiday houses in Skåne and Småland. It was only when the lockdown was being slowly lifted that the sentiment suddenly changed. 
“They changed the rhetoric when one Sunday it took two hours to pass the bridge. And we were in that queue. And suddenly all hell broke loose in Denmark and everything was on the news and in the newspapers and companies had to send out new regulation warnings to their employees,” she says. 
“But before that, there was no problem. And we still see a lot of Danish cars on the streets and we know other Danes who also have chosen not to follow the regulations.” 
The couple nonetheless mostly kept their weekly trips secret. 
“I didn't tell anyone in the beginning,” she explains. “We have a doctor in the family that that could lose their job if they do not follow the recommendations.” 
She doesn't think that the flurry of newspaper article about Danes flouting the government's advice has had any impact on the number of Danes she sees crossing the bridge and back over the weekend. 
But some people have clearly stopped. At the nearby port of Ystad, Mia and Rune are taking the ferry to holiday in Bornholm rather than visiting their summer house near the Swedish city of Kalmar, as they have decided to follow the Danish government's recommendations.
“I have to follow the orders from Denmark, of course, but I think it's kind of funny that I can go to Bornholm, but I cannot go to my summer house in Sweden which is out in the countryside,” she said. 
“It's a little silly,” her husband adds. “If we can go the other way, they should be able to go our way as well.”
But Kerstin suspects that many of the cars she sees leaving Copenhagen on Fridays are not simply using Sweden as a bridge to cross over into Bornholm. 
“And if they are all going to Bornholm, some of them are taking a big detour because they head straight off on the road to Stockholm!” she laughs.