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Mortensaften: Denmark’s goose-eating annual tradition explained

Many Danes still keep the tradition of Mortensaften alive by gathering the family to eat goose or duck.

Mortensaften: Denmark's goose-eating annual tradition explained
Danes traditionally eat either roast duck or goose on Mortensaften. Photo: Morten Stricker/Midtjyske Medier/Ritzau Scanpix
Saint Martin’s Day is celebrated each November 11th in a long line of countries, mostly as a harvest festival. In Denmark, the day is not an official holiday but many older generations still mark the occasion with a dinner of goose or duck on the preceding evening, known as Mortensaften (St. Martin’s Eve).

Denmark’s celebration of Mortensaften is in honour of Saint Martin of Tours, a Roman soldier born around the year 316 who deserted the Roman army due to his Christian faith and established the first monastery in Gaul. He was later canonized as a Christian saint. 

Known as Sankt Morten or Morten Bisp in Danish, St. Martin is said to have resisted his impending election as bishop by hiding in a geese pin. The honk of the birds eventually revealed his location and forced him to take the bishop’s office. Because the geese had revealed him, he asked the townspeople to slaughter a goose once a year and eat it as a form of revenge.
In Denmark, the traditional Mortensaften dinner has been celebrated for centuries. The first documents of the celebration in Denmark are from 1616 but it is believed that since the Middle Ages people ate goose and duck as an offering to the saint. 
Eventually, the goose came to be replaced on Danes’ dinner tables by other poultry, particularly duck. Today, the tradition hangs by a thin thread. 
“I don’t think it’s a big deal. It is not an official holiday but it’s sometimes an excuse to have a good meal, mostly with your family,” Copenhagen resident Frank Hansen told The Local.
“My grandparents used to invite the family over to eat goose or duck. But I guess now it is regarded as a tradition only by older people,” Julie Ravn said.
While the traditional meal has nearly died out, one clear remnant of Saint Martin remains in Denmark. Both Martin and the Danish variation Morten remain incredibly popular names amongst Danish men. As of 2021, there are 37,112 Martins and 33,825 Mortens in Denmark, according to Statistics Denmark
Article first published on November 10th, 2015.


What’s the deal with the Danish Queen’s golden carriage ride through Copenhagen?

A carriage plated with 24 carat gold leaves this morning conveyed Denmark’s Queen Margrethe to her third and final New Year’s Levee at Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen.

What’s the deal with the Danish Queen’s golden carriage ride through Copenhagen?
The Queen rides through Copenhagen in a golden carriage on January 3rd. Photo: Ida Guldbæk Arentsen/Ritzau Scanpix

So what's this all about?

The Queen’s golden carriage was escorted by the Guard Hussar Regiment’s (Gardehusarregimentet) horse squadron from the royal residence at Amalienborg through the centre of the Danish capital to Christiansborg, in keeping with tradition.

Escorted by who now?

The Guard Hussar Regiment’s horse squadron. The cavalry soldiers wear traditional blue and red uniforms, standing out in the January gloom as they escort the golden carriage.

Photo: Ida Guldbæk Arentsen/Ritzau Scanpix

What's a New Year's Levee when it's at home?

The custom of the Royal Palace wishing ‘Denmark’ a Happy New Year by inviting its representatives to dinner and bidding the nation a prosperous year goes back centuries. Many of the traditions included in the carriage trip seen today originated in the 1600s.

And what happens exactly?

On New Year’s Day this year, the Queen hosted a New Year Levee and ‘taffel’ (dinner) for the government, speaker of parliament and official representatives of Denmark and the palace.

Friday’s ‘New Year's Levee’ (nytårskur), to which the Queen was travelling, is for officers from the Danish military and emergency services as well as representatives from national organizations. Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary were also in attendance.

The tradition in Denmark of having royal ‘New Year Levees’ on several days – today’s was the third of three this year – has roots in the period after World War I, when the older New Year’s Day levee had to be extended due to the growing number of state institutions and organizations which had to be invited by the Palace.

So how does the Queen get home afterwards?

Following the completion of the Levee, the Queen is transported back across town in her golden carriage.

Ok, I suppose that makes sense.

Photo: Ida Guldbæk Arentsen/Ritzau Scanpix

READ ALSO: Medieval Danish Queen's cellar is one of 2019's top ten archaeological finds