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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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LIVING IN DENMARK

KEY POINTS: What changes about life in Denmark in February 2022?

Coronavirus restrictions and travel rules are among the changes which will affect life in Denmark in February.

Hailstones in Denmark in February 2020. The country will lift its Covid-19 restrictions in February 2022.
Hailstones in Denmark in February 2020. The country will lift its Covid-19 restrictions in February 2022. Photo: Ida Guldbæk Arentsen/Ritzau Scanpix

No Covid-19 travel restrictions for vaccinated persons

A small number of Covid-19 travel restrictions will be retained in February but these will not apply to people vaccinated against the virus.

People who can document vaccination with an EU approved vaccine, or who have been previously infected with Covid-19, will no longer have to take a test or quarantine on entering Denmark regardless of where in the world they are travelling from, the government recently announced.

For travel to Denmark from EU or Schengen countries, people who are neither vaccinated nor previously infected must take a test for Covid-19 no more than 24 hours following entry, or may alternatively take a test prior to travel.

Unvaccinated people with no infection history travelling from outside the EU and Schengen area are affected by different rules depending on whether they are travelling from what Denmark categorises a “risk” or “high risk” country.

Full details of how the rules will change can be found here.

Domestic restrictions to be lifted on February 1st

All domestic restrictions, including the use of a vaccine pass, mask-wearing and early closings for bars and restaurants, are to be lifted on February 1st.

A coronapas has been required since late last year at bars and restaurants among other settings, while face mask rules have been in place in stores, on public transport and in health and social care settings.

The decision was announced by the government last week despite high infection rates, with falling ICU patient numbers, high vaccine uptake and the milder Omicron variant forming the background of the decision.

READ ALSO: Denmark’s Covid-19 rules for close contacts and ‘other’ contacts

Restrictions on alcohol sales to end a few hours early

If you want to celebrate the end of restrictions with a late drink, it will be possible to do so the day before the change takes full effect.

With general Covid restrictions scheduled to be lifted on February 1st, the government has brought forward the end of the restrictions on bars by a few hours.

The decision was made to avoid a situation in which bars would have had to close at 11pm on January 31st, only to open again an hour later following the cut-off point for the outgoing restrictions.

Alcohol may also be sold after 10pm from January 31st, including in stores.

Covid-19 sick leave compensation could end

Increased sick days taken by staff at Danish companies, related to the country’s current high rate of Covid-19 infections and self-isolation rules, are currently eligible for special compensation under a deal reached by the government and the labour market late last year.

Under normal Danish sick leave rules, companies must pay up to the first 30 days of sick pay for staff. The current special provision allows companies to apply for reimbursement for this.

A criterion for the compensation is that the staff member in question is unable to work from home.

The agreement is set to expire on February 28th 2022. It will be reviewed close to this time to assess whether an extension is needed.

Return to ‘normal life’ in sight?

At the beginning of January, the head of department and senior consultant at the State Serum Institute (SSI), Tyra Grove Krause, said that she expected the current wave of Covid-19 infections in Denmark, driven by the dominant Omicron variant, to peak in coming weeks before drop in infections in February.

“Omicron will peak at the end of January, and February will see falling infection numbers and a reduction in strain on the health system. But we must make an effort in January, because it will be hard to get through,” she said in an interview.

“I think (Covid-19) will have the next two months and after that I hope that infections will begin to pare back and we will get our normal lives back,” she also said.

Although there is little sign of infection numbers flattening at the time of writing, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen spoke of a return to “life as we knew it” after announcing the end of Covid restrictions last week.

“We are saying farewell to the restrictions and welcome to life as we knew it before corona,” Frederiksen told a press conference.

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