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LIVING IN DENMARK

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

Many people who work in Denmark have the day off today for the public holiday Great Prayer Day (Store Bededag). We look at why the Danish calendar includes this extra holiday on a day when most other countries are going about their normal business.

Store Bededag: Why does Denmark have annual 'Prayer Day' holiday?
Warm wheat buns, a Great Prayer Day tradition.Archive photo: Eva Seider/Ritzau Scanpix

Denmark originally introduced Great Prayer Day – officially an “extraordinary normal prayer day” in the late 17th century during the time of King Christian V, who decreed it.

The holiday is in fact one of three religious holidays introduced at the time at the behest of the Bishop of Roskilde, Hans Bagger (1675-1693).

Bishop Hans Bagger introduced three prayer days to Denmark in the late 1600s. Image: Kunstbibliothek der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz

Although the three prayer days were implemented by the bishop in his first two years in the job, only the middle of the three days on the calendar was coded into the law by the king. It falls on the fourth Friday after Easter Sunday.

The idea of decreeing a single day as a public praying day was to reduce the number of these religious days, limiting everyone’s time off. It’s unclear whether the King himself continued to take the other two days off work.

Nevertheless, the decree condensed religious holidays that had existed since before the Reformation – for example during the spring and at harvest, as well as several extra ones around Christmas time. There were 22 holy days in the calendar at one point, so it’s probably fair enough they were cut back a bit.

The day was a more serious affair in its early years. Inns and cellars were required to stop serving their beverages when church bells rang the preceding evening at 6pm. Everyone had to attend church – sober – the following day. Fasting until the end of religious services was also demanded.

Those pious duties have given sway over the years. Now, Great Prayer Day is probably best known for eating hvede – cardamom-infused wheat buns with a generous spreading of butter and perhaps jam. There’s a tradition behind this too – bakers were not allowed to work on Store Bededag, so they made the wheat buns on Thursday to be reheated the following day. Think of it like a microwave meal for the Age of Enlightenment.

Work, games, gambling and other “worldly vanity” were also not allowed during the religious penitence. Only the first of these is limited today, with shops and most supermarkets closed, as well as non-essential public sector services.

One aspect of the Great Prayer Day of Hans Bagger’s time that might feel familiar in 2021 is a ban on travelling. Limitations in the late 17th century were conceivably a limit on going from village to village, rather than restrictions on leaving the country.

Sources: National Museum of Denmark, Folkekirken

READ ALSO: Witches and rain: Denmark’s Sankt Hans Aften explained

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HEALTH

What are the rules on accessing the UK health service if you live in Denmark?

If you're British and live in Denmark you will previously have been registered with the National Health Service, but once you move abroad things change - here's what this means for accessing UK healthcare both on a regular basis and if you have an accident or fall sick while on a visit back to the UK.

What are the rules on accessing the UK health service if you live in Denmark?

The NHS is described by the British government as a “residence-based health service” which means that if you don’t live in the UK you’re not automatically entitled to NHS care, even if you are a British citizen and even if you still pay tax in the UK.

However funding, access and care rules can vary depending on your circumstances.

Moving to Denmark

All persons who are registered as resident in Denmark and have been issued with a personal registration number are entitled to all public health services.

In some cases, you can also use Denmark’s public health system if you are not a permanent or temporary resident of the country.

Here’s how to go about accessing Denmark’s health system after arriving in the country.

Denmark’s health services included under the public health system provide you with a family doctor or GP as well as free specialist consultations and treatments under the national health system, should you be referred for these.

It should be noted that, as previously reported by The Local, foreign nationals can experience extended waiting times on residence applications in Denmark. Since they may not have automatic access to the public health system during this time, some decide to take out private health insurance to cover the waiting period.

READ ALSO: Applying for residency in Denmark: Why you might need health insurance during processing period

Can I stay registered with my UK GP?

No, you need to have a local address to be registered with an NHS GP. In practice, many people don’t get around to telling their GP that they have moved and so stay registered for months or even years, but technically you should notify your GP so that you can be removed from the NHS register. 

Even if you do remain registered with a UK GP, they won’t be able to issue prescriptions for you in Denmark as most UK GPs are not licensed to practice outside the UK – therefore are not covered by insurance.

If you are on regular medication it may be possible for your GP to issue you with an advance stock of medication to cover you while you get settled in Denmark, but many prescriptions are limited to a maximum of three months.

What about travelling outside Denmark?

Once you’re registered in the Danish system you will be able to get a European health insurance card, the blå EU-sygesikringskort (blue EU health insurance card).

This covers medical care while on trips in Europe and basically the same as the EHIC you might have had while you were registered in the UK but it’s not issued automatically, you have to request it.

You must have legal residence in Denmark and be a resident of an EU country or the UK, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland or Liechtenstein to be eligible for the card in Denmark. The UK is included here under an agreement with the EU following Brexit. The card can be applied for here.

If travelling outside of Europe – for example, a holiday in the US – you need to ensure that you have travel insurance with full medical cover in case of any mishaps while abroad. 

What about trips back to the UK?

Although your day-to-day healthcare may be covered by the Danish system, there’s still the possibility or falling sick or having an accident while on a trip back to the UK. 

The Danish blue EU health insurance card covers all trips in the EU and European Economic Area, as well as Switzerland and the UK.

The card covers essential treatments that you receive while in the UK but not those which medical personnel deem can wait until you return home.

If you are charged for medical care while in the UK because you do not have a UK address, and think you should have been covered by the blue health card, you can apply for the costs to be refunded after you return to Denmark.

In practice, most UK nationals who need to use the NHS while on trips back to the UK report that no-one ever thinks to ask whether they are UK residents.

Some Brits living in Denmark may keep their registration with a UK GP and make regular trips back to get prescriptions, but while this can happen in practice it does involve lying or at least being economical with the truth about where you live.

Emergency care

There are certain types of NHS care that are not charged for, such as A&E treatment or treatment from paramedics, but if you need to be admitted to hospital you may have to pay.

NHS hospitals won’t turn you away if you cannot prove residency, but they may present you with a bill when you leave if you cannot prove either residency or health cover in a European country.

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