Why do Danes place candles in their windows on May 4th?

Each year, people in Denmark place candles in their windows to mark the liberation of the country at the end of World War II. But why was the custom adopted?

danmark's liberation
Danes displaying the colours of the British RAF on Nørrebrogade in Copenhagen following Denmark's liberation on May 5th 1945. Photo: Ulf Nilsen/Ritzau Scanpix

On May 4th, 1945, Denmark was liberated from German occupation.

The exact moment Danes knew that they had been freed from the five-year occupation came at 8:35pm, as a BBC broadcast from London interrupted regular programmes to announce the German capitulation as Allied troops marched towards the country.

The now-famous words:

I dette Øjeblik meddeles det, at Montgomery har oplyst, at de tyske Tropper i Holland, Nordvesttyskland og i Danmark har overgivet sig. Her er London. Vi gentager: Montgomery har i dette Øjeblik meddelt, at de tyske Tropper i Holland, Nordvesttyskland og Danmark har overgivet sig

came over the radio. A translation of the announcement follows:

“At this moment, it is being announced that Montgomery has stated that the German troops in the Netherlands, northwest Germany and Denmark have surrendered. This is London. We repeat: Montgomery has just now announced that the German troops in the Netherlands, northwest Germany and Denmark have surrendered.”

With those words, the BBC’s Danish presenter Johannes G. Sørensen cut into regular programming to inform the Danish people that British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery had just accepted the surrender of German forces at Lüneburg Heath, east of Hamburg. 

Denmark would have to wait another 12 hours until the liberation officially took effect at 8am the following day, but the radio broadcast brought happy Danes out into the streets.

Some took the opportunity to burn the hated black window shades that had been used during bombing raids. 

Today, the date is marked with the custom of lighting candles in windows on May 4th as a reminder of the five years when Danish cities spent their nights in total darkness. 

In 1944, candle wax was in shortage, and it was in the years after the war that the tradition was established.

However, it is connected to the rejection of the blackout blinds and the ban on lights in homes and on streets at night during the occupation laws, enforced by Germany to prevent British aircraft from using the light for navigation.

In 2014, 41 percent of people asked in a survey said they still placed a candle on their window sill on May 4th, newspaper Kristeligt Dagblad wrote in 2016.

“That the custom of placing a candle in windows still plays a role shows that the public still feels something for this period in history,” Michael Kjeldsen, an external history professor at Roskilde University, told Kristeligt Dagblad in 2016.

Denmark’s liberation is officially marked on May 5th, as this was the date on which the German capitulation took effect.

READ ALSO: Ukrainian president Zelensky to address Denmark on May 4th

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Was Danish King Harald Bluetooth buried in Poland?

The grave of Harald Bluetooth, the Danish king who brought Christianity to the Nordic land 1,000 years ago, may have been discovered in Poland.

Was Danish King Harald Bluetooth buried in Poland?

Harald Bluetooth – who is said to have been given is name because he had a bluish, dead tooth – is considered one of the great kings of Scandinavia around the Viking era.

It is unclear when exactly he was born, but he fought in several wars with Germany and Norway. When his son, Sweyn Forkbeard, rebelled against him in 980 CE, he was wounded and fled, according to a chronicle by Medieval scholar Adam of Bremen.

He is said to have died of his wounds in the year 986 in what is today Poland.

According to Adam of Bremen, Bluetooth was brought back to Denmark after his death and buried at Roskilde, the Viking capital of Denmark and now the location of Roskilde Cathedral, where Danish monarchs have been buried throughout the centuries since the country converted from paganism to Christianity.

However, there is uncertainty around whether the Viking king is in fact buried in Roskilde.

Swedish news wire TT reported on Tuesday that Swedish archaeologist Sven Rosborn and Polish journalist Marek Kryda claim Blåtand was actually buried at the community of Wiejkowo in northwestern Poland.

The two do not agree on the exact location of Bluetooth’s grave, however. Kryda says that he has used satellite images to find what could be a Viking grave underneath a 19th-century Catholic church. Meanwhile, Rosborn has postulated that Bluetooth, who was Christian, would have been given a Christian burial somewhere in the cemetery.

Kryda and Rosborn have each written a book on the subject.

Historians at the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen told TT in a written comment that they are “aware of the claim” that Bluetooth is buried in Wiejkowo.

The Danish Vikings had strong connections to Poland. Four tombs in the country from the 11th century have been found to contain the remains of Danish Viking warriors.

Harald Bluetooth was one of the last Viking kings, with the Viking age is considered to have ended in 1066.

He also lends his name to modern-day Bluetooth technology, which unifies the telecommunications and computing industries as the Viking leader is credited with uniting Denmark and Norway.