Easter is big in Denmark. It kicks off the summer season after a long, dull Nordic winter, and the Danes go all in for hygge - a warm, cozy environment with good times and good people.
The påskefrokost, or Easter lunch, is a must for most Danes. It means getting together with family or friends for a huge feast that lasts most of day and is a mixture of lunch and dinner (or even breakfast). It's a good idea to wait until you get a formal invitation before you show up, though. The Danes are not too impulsive, and they like to know how many dinner plates they need to prepare.
If you're among the lucky ones who are invited, remember to bring a bottle of wine or some flowers. They will love that. In fact, these days it's not uncommon to see men or women biking through town with a bottle of wine sticking out of their bags.
Making a gækkebrev (or several) is a standard activity for Danish children. The idea is to design a letter in the basic shape of a snowflake that includes a rhyming riddle and a snowdrop. Kids will not sign their names on the letter, but will instead put one dot for every letter in their name.
Recipients then have to guess who sent them the letter. If they guess right, the sender has to give them a chocolate egg. If they don't guess the sender's identity, then the recipient has to give the egg. Pro tip: you'll almost certainly know which child sent it to you (hey, it's not hard to outsmart a six-year-old) but play along and give them the chocolate. Here's a video explaining how it all works:
Hygge is not particularly linked to Easter, but it is the cornerstone of everything social event in Denmark - so it's a good idea to have looked up the term before showing up at the Easter lunch. In short, it means being together, relaxing and having fun. And there is always a candle involved (in Copenhagen, cafes always have candles, no matter how sunny it is outside).
Lots of coffee and lots of beer are also key ingredients to this Danish national pastime. If you're a restless person, you may want to be aware that hygge also means doing nothing, together, for a long period of time, so go with the flow.
When: Thursday to Monday
Denmark is a Christian country (at least on paper) and Easter celebrations therefore include Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday. These are national holidays in Denmark. Schools are closed and most people do not work.
Most Danes, however, stretch it and either take the entire first – or second – week off, meaning the Easter break becomes a one-week long holiday (no wonder they are the happiest people on Earth).
Where: At home or at the summer house
Some families have Easter lunches at a restaurant, but most people invite family and friends to their homes. In general, the Danes love their homes and spend a lot time decorating and moving around furniture. Easter is no exception and yellow is of course the colour – yellow candles, yellow chickens, yellow napkins and of course yellow eggs (we'll get back to this).
The kids also bring home Easter decorations from school and a big hit is a small Easter chicken or bunny box with cress seeds.
But the Easter lunch if also very often held at summer houses. Many Danes have a second home by the sea or at least away from home but within a driving distance. If you are invited to spend time at a summer house, take it as a compliment. This is a very private place for most Danes.
Solæg, a kind of hard-boiled egg, is enjoyed during Easter. Photo: Wikipedia Commons.
Like everywhere else in the world, the egg is a major symbol of Easter, also in Denmark. It symbolizes new life and a new beginning. For decoration using egg shells, you can blow out your own egg by making a tiny hole at the bottom and top with a needle.
If you're to the more expensive things, however, you may want to pop into Royal Copenhagen's flagship
store on the main street Strøget. They've made good business producing a new Easter egg each year in porcelain – it can be opened at the top and filled with chocolate.
Eggs will also be eaten boiled, fried or as a specially-prepared solæg, which translates to mean “sun egg.” This is a tradition from southern Denmark. The eggs are boiled with onions and the yolk turns dark. The eggs are then put into a salty mixture for at least one week, and then (believe it or not) eaten with mustard and chili.
Many Danes also throw Easter eggs as a game. The eggs are boiled and you line up outside to see who can throw their eggs the farthest.
How: Beer and “snaps”
Many years ago, people in Copenhagen could not drink the water because it was too polluted and drank beer instead. It seems like some Danes have not discovered that this is no longer true. If one is “to hygge,” then one needs beer. The Easter lunch is no exception. There will for sure be beers en masse. For many people there is also the “snaps” or “en lille en,” a northern European kind of flavoured spirit (could be akvavit), which is drunk in one-go and accompanied by a cheerful “Skåål!”
If you're a kid in Denmark, you've been counting down the days until Easter when you get an Easter egg full of candy. The size of these eggs have grown proportionally with the Scandinavian economy and would today be labelled “extra large.”
The kids also look for Easter chocolate eggs in the garden or in parks that the Easter bunny has hidden. The general Danish tradition of eating candy – called slik – however, should not only be blamed on the kids. Recent studies show that each Dane on average eats eight kilos of slik per year, making them the second-biggest candy-eaters in Europe.
Why: Decreasing religion
In brief, Denmark is a Christian country and has a state church called the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark. Very few people, however, attend church in general and not necessarily for Easter. Denmark is also becoming more multicultural, with three percent of its population being Muslim. There are nice churches to visit if you are a tourist, and Denmark recently got a new, big mosque at Nørrebro.
Easter lunch etiquette
Finally, remember that if you've been invited for a Danish Easter lunch, do not miss it and always be on time - your host has most likely spent hours preparing it, so being punctual will show your appreciation.
Enjoy and happy Easter to everyone!