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Danish word of the day: Gækkebrev

Michael Barrett
Michael Barrett - [email protected]
Danish word of the day: Gækkebrev

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Unsplash and Nicolas Raymond/FlickR

Children across Denmark will be sending fun Easter-themed letters to each other in the coming days, but what exactly is a gækkebrev?

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What is gækkebrev?

Gækkebrev is formed of the Danish word for letter (correspondence), brev, and the verb at gække, which is no longer in common use but means to "mislead" or "trick". You may have heard the word in the phrase at drive gæk med, meaning to trick or kid someone.

Sending a gækkebrev is an Easter tradition which emerged in Denmark in the 1700s and continues to this day, and involves playing a trick on the recipient of the letter. According to the tradition, they are always anonymous, though you may give the target of your trick a helpful hint by writing a dot for each letter of your name.

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Gækkebreve, sent at Easter, are meanwhile made to look like snowflakes by cutting pieces out of the paper. This is thought to be due to centuries-old folklore which states that when the vintergække (winter teases) peak out from under the snow, it's time to send a greeting to someone you care about.

Why do I need to know gækkebrev?

Making a gækkebrev (or several) is a popular Easter activity for children in Denmark. The idea is to design a letter in the basic shape of a snowflake that includes a rhyming riddle. This means plenty of time spent on klippe og klistre (cutting out and glueing, although it's mainly just the former in this case) to make the letters.

Children do not sign their names on the letter, but will instead put one dot for every letter in their name.

A gækkebrev. Photo: Bjarne Lüthcke/Ritzau Scanpix

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.

Although adults might be able to deduce which child sent their gækkebrev, most play along and let them win the chocolate. 

Examples (of rhyming gække riddles)

Gæk gæk gæk
Mit navn er blevet væk
Mit navn det står med prikker
Pas på det ikke stikker

Gæk gæk gæk
My name has run away
Write it on the dots
But mind you don't get stung

Digtet i Vejle
af 24 snegle
skrevet i Rom
af kaptajn Vom
gæt så, hvorfra brevet kom

Written in Vejle
by 24 snails
written in Rome
by Captain Vome
Guess from where this letter has come

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