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EASTER

The complete guide to Easter in Denmark

Påskefrokost, gækkebrev, a 5-day weekend and snaps. Here's your complete guide to a Danish Easter.

Easter eggs
Easter egg hunts are popular in Denmark. Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
5-day holiday
Even though Easter has become less of a religious holiday, on Good Friday Danish flags are flown at half- mast.
 
The Easter period in Denmark includes Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday.  These are national holidays in Denmark when schools are closed and most people do not work. 
 
It is worth checking opening times for shops, supermarkets, attractions and restaurants during this period because many close for the whole long weekend.
Most people stretch out the bank holidays and either take the entire first or second week off, meaning the Easter break becomes a one-week long holiday. Many will go to their summer houses or spend time with family so you may find the cities quieter than usual.
 

Tivoli is a fun place to visit over Easter. Photo: Marie Hald/Ritzau Scanpix

Easter decorations
Homes are decorated with easter colours, fresh flowers or branches to hang decorations off. It’s very popular to bring nature into homes in Denmark and around Easter time, homes will be coloured with bursts of yellow, mint green and pale pink.

 
Children bring home Easter decorations such as a small chicken or bunny box with cress seeds.
Easter eggs hanging from a branch.

Easter decorations. Photo: Allan Lundgren/Ritzau Scanpix

Påskefrokost

The påskefrokost, or Easter lunch, is a must for most Danes. Some families have Easter lunches at a restaurant, but most people invite family and friends to their homes.

Påskefrokost lasts most of the afternoon and is a mixture of lunch and dinner (or even breakfast).

The food will include ryebread (of course), eggs, cress, breaded fried fish, different kinds of herring, a variety of cheese, sliced meats and liver pâté (leverpostej). Lamb is also a typical dish for this time of year. 

Easter lunch in Denmark

An example of påskefrokost. Photo: Claus Bech/Ritzau Scanpix

The drinks will include Easter beers. All breweries begin releasing their Påskebryg (Easter brew) in the run up to Easter claiming it to be stronger and tastier than the average beer. 

There will also be 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 invited to a påskefrokost, remember to bring a bottle of wine or some flowers and arrive on time.

Gækkebrev

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. Children 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 but play along and give them the chocolate. 

Danish gækkebrev

An example of a gækkebrev. Photo: Bjarne Lüthcke/Ritzau Scanpix
 
Eggs
Like everywhere else in the world, the egg is a major symbol of Easter, also in Denmark. It symbolises new life and a new beginning.
 
Eggs will be eaten boiled, fried or as a prepared solæg, which translates as “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 eaten with mustard and chilli.  
Solæg, a kind of hard-boiled egg, is enjoyed during Easter, particularly in South Jutland. Photo: Annett Bruhn/Ritzau Scanpix
 
If you’re a child in Denmark, you’ve been counting down the days until Easter when you get your chocolate Easter egg. 
 
Children look for Easter chocolate eggs in the garden or in parks that the Easter bunny has hidden. They also plays games with eggs. One game is throwing boiled eggs to see who can throw the furthest.
 
Easter eggs in Denmark

Påskeæg. Photo: Kjersti Hjelmen/Nf-Nf/Ritzau Scanpix
 
Decorating eggs is also popular, which you can do by making a tiny hole at the bottom and top of an egg with a needle and blowing out the contents before carefully decorating the shell.  
 
For the professional look, head to Royal Copenhagen’s flagship store on Strøget. They produce a new Easter egg each year in porcelain – it can be opened at the top and filled with chocolate. 
 
However you celebrate your Danish Easter, we hope it’s a good one. God påske allesammen!
 

DANISH TRADITIONS

Why does Denmark celebrate Sankt Hans Aften?

Celebrating Sankt Hans Aften (Saint John’s Eve in English) is an important midsummer custom in Denmark. Why is the occasion so important in the Nordic country?

Why does Denmark celebrate Sankt Hans Aften?

Sankt Hans Aften, when people sing in chorus before lighting a giant bonfire and eating and drinking late into the light summer night, is one of the highlights of the Danish calendar.

The celebration always takes place on the evening of June 23rd, with Sankt Hans day being the following day, June 24th. It is therefore slightly after the actual midsummer, the solstice on June 21st.

The tradition is a long-standing one in Denmark and throughout the Nordic countries, with written accounts of it going as far back as the 16th century.

In its early years, the church was critical, given then unruly dancing, drinking and shrieking. Originally a public holiday, Sankt Hans Dag had this privilege removed in 1770 but customary celebrations the night before have continued to this day.

READ ALSO: Store Bededag: Why does Denmark have annual ‘Prayer Day’ holiday?

Sankt Hans is the Danish name for John the Baptist, said to be born six months before Jesus, so June 24th, six months before (and after) Christmas, is therefore his saint’s day. This also gives a connection to the solstice and days becoming shorter again after midsummer.

The first Lutheran bishop on Zealand, Peder Palladius, is said to have instructed Danish bishops in 1543 to preach about John the Baptist on Sankt Hans Aften.

The tradition of celebrating the feast day for John the Baptist in Denmark has both religious and pagan roots, though.

A particular example of the latter involves the custom of burning a witch at the top of the bonfire – which is a relatively recent adaptation of the celebration.

Because Sankt Hans is at midsummer, the power of nature is at its highest according to folklore, giving the connection between Sankt Hans and magic.

In earlier times, people with sicknesses were known to go to springs to drink the water or bathe their diseased limbs.

According to the National Museum of Denmark, witch-like figures on the top of Sankt Hans bonfires began to appear in East Jutland in the late 1800s at a different religious festival, Walpurgis Night (Valborgsaften in Danish), which is celebrated on the last night of April. The practice eventually made its way across to Sankt Hans Aften.

Although the witches being burned on Sankt Hans Aften are of the paper and hay variety, roughly 1,000 real men and women convicted of witchcraft were burned alive in Denmark in the 16th and 17th centuries. The last ‘witch’ to be killed in this way was Anne Palles, a Danish woman accused of sorcery and executed in 1693 on the island of Falster. 

Midsommervisen (“Midsummer’s Song”), also called Vi elsker vort land (“We Love our Country”) is the song you will hear crowds at Sankt Hans Aften celebrations in Denmark sing in chorus. It seems an incongruous combination with burning witches – the two traditions were not used together to celebrate Sankt Hans Aften until around 1900.

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