The dark story behind the large stick piles found in Denmark’s forests

Residents of eastern Lolland in Denmark have thrown sticks and branches into the same pile for centuries. There's a chilling reason behind the practice.

Visitors to the Hyde Forest in south-eastern Lolland typically follow the tradition of throwing a branch on the pile of sticks before leaving the forest. Legend says that if you don't, the ghost of an evil forest ranger will follow you home. Photo by David Boca / Unsplash

Visitors of the Hyde Forest near Sakskøbing in south-eastern Lolland seldom leave it before following an ancient tradition – throwing a branch on the large pile of sticks, Danish broadcaster TV 2 reports.

According to folk tales, if you fail to do so, the ghost of an evil forest ranger will follow you home.

The custom has led to a huge pile of branches forming on the forest floor over the centuries, which has been named “Stikhokken” (literally, a heap of sticks).

The pile is located in the privately owned Hyde Forest, but it is right next to a path used by forest walkers.

The superstition behind it tracks back to the time when fears of being haunted were a very important thing in the day-to-day life of people, Marie Brinch, an archaeologist at the Lolland-Falster Museum, told TV 2.

“It remains huge to this day, (it’s) at least three meters high because people throw branches on it when they pass by to this day,” Brinch noted.

The grim event behind the superstition

The Stikhokken was first mentioned 150 years ago, but according to tradition, it is around 400 years old.

Its origin is related to 1653 or 1657 when a local forest ranger was killed in the forest by a poacher.

However, as the forest ranger was very unpopular with the local population, they left his body to rot on the forest floor. The decision would end up haunting the forest.

“The forest ranger’s ghost began to haunt the forest. According to tradition, the locals decided to stop this by throwing branches on his grave. It prevented the spirit from coming up, and it is the same pile of branches that lies there to this day,” Brinch explained.

The archaeologist noted that the large pile of branches and the ground beneath it have not been studied archaeologically and that the date from the myth has yet to be studied academically.

But the tradition seems to be very old, according to the archaeologist.

Below you can see a photo of the stick pile in question. 

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A post shared by Natascha (@nats_detgodeliv)

Other stick piles

The “stick pile” phenomenon is also present in several other places in Denmark and the Nordic countries.

For example, there is a similar custom of throwing branches in Vendsyssel in West Jutland and similar practices in Sweden.

“What all the stories have in common is that they involve places where murders or suicides have occurred… Death which is somehow outside the norms of society. In Sweden, it also involved protection against ghosts,” Brinch noted, adding that, in Sweden, there is an example of a story in which children’s ghosts were occurring – and the branches were supposed to make the haunting stop.

She added that she recently heard many stories about similar piles. Furthermore, she noted that the story of the Stikhokken got a lot of attention when she mentioned it in a series of posts on Twitter.

Brinch believes that superstition appeals to something in all of us.

“I think there are many of us who like the fact that there are still things in this world that we cannot fully explain. It’s kind of nice that there’s still some mystery left in our world, which otherwise has become devoid of magic,” she concluded.

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How many public holidays does Denmark have compared to other countries?

Denmark’s government wants to reduce the number of public holidays on the national calendar by one from 2024 onwards. But does the Nordic country have more or fewer days off than other countries in Europe?

How many public holidays does Denmark have compared to other countries?

The Danish government wants to abolish springtime public holiday Great Prayer Day in a move it says will enable increased spending on defence. A bill was tabled by the government earlier in January.

The policy has met with criticism, but how do Denmark’s public holidays stack up against other countries?

Denmark has 10 national public holidays, including some which always fall on a weekend. Up to 4 extra may be given depending on the sector you work in, your employer and collective bargaining agreement (if a trade union member).

If the holiday falls on a weekend, no substitute day is given.

The holidays are: January 1st (New Year’s Day); Maundy Thursday; Good Friday; Easter Monday; Great Prayer Day; Ascension Day; Whitsunday; Pentecost; December 25th (Christmas); December 26th (Boxing Day).

If the plan to abolish Great Prayer Day is adopted, it will take effect from 2024, so you’ll still be able to enjoy the holiday in 2023 at least.

Some industries also have May 1st (Labour Day) as a day off, while June 5th (Constitution Day) is a holiday for banks and government workers, with most shops closed too by law, but this is optional for the private sector.

Christmas Eve (December 24th) and December 31st (New Year’s Eve) are not public holidays, but many employers treat them as such.

READ ALSO: When are Denmark’s public holidays in 2023?

Even before Great Prayer Day is scrapped, Denmark rarely comes out on top when comparing the number of public holidays to other countries in Scandinavia and Western Europe.

Norway, like Denmark, has 10 national public holidays including some which may fall on a weekend.

Norway does not mark Great Prayer Day, which is unique to Denmark, but does celebrate both Labour Day and the national day, May 17th, as public holidays. If the holiday falls on a weekend, no substitute day is given in Norway.

Sweden has nine national and three extra ‘de facto’ public holidays. If the holiday falls on a weekend, you do not get an extra weekday in lieu.

People in Sweden get January 6th (Epiphany) off work and also celebrate Labour Day as a holiday on May 1st.

Midsummer’s Eve, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve are not national public holidays in Sweden, but the majority of employers treat them as such. 

In many Swedish workplaces or collective bargaining agreements, there are additional public holiday policies. The most common include a half-day before certain public holidays (Epiphany, Walpurgis and All Saints’ Eve), or ‘bridge days’, so that if a public holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, the Monday before or Friday after is given as an extra day off.

Germany has 9 national public holidays, including some falling on a weekend, and up to 13 regionally. If the holiday falls on a weekend, no substitute day is given.

German public holidays include German Unity Day on October 3rd and Labour Day on May 1st.

Many states have extra holidays including, but not limited to January 6th (Epiphany) in Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Saxony-Anhalt; March 8th (International Women’s Day) in Berlin and October 31st (Reformation Day) in a number of states across the country.

The United Kingdom has between 8 and 10 public holidays (also known as bank holidays) during the course of the year, depending on which country you’re in.

Northern Ireland has more public holidays (10) than England, Scotland and Wales (all 8). Scotland’s bank holidays are not exactly the same as those in England and Wales.

In 2023, the UK will have an additional bank holiday for the coronation of King Charles III. Last year saw two extraordinary bank holidays related to the monarchy: one in June for Queen Elizabeth II’s platinum jubilee, and one for the Queen’s state funeral in September.

Unlike many other countries, the UK is accommodating if a bank holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday. In such cases, a ‘substitute’ weekday becomes a bank holiday, normally the following Monday.

France has 11 public holidays – or 13 in the historic Alsace-Lorraine region. However, if the holiday falls on a weekend, in general no substitute day is given, so the actual number of extra days off that French workers get varies from year to year.

There is also the curious case of Pentecost, which for some people is a public holiday and others an opportunity to work without getting paid. Yep, you read that right

So are there any nearby countries which actually have fewer public holidays then Denmark?

In Switzerland, there are only 4 public holidays nationally and the Swiss communes with the fewest paid public holidays have only 5 in total. However, there are up to 16 regionally.

If the holiday falls on a weekend, the Swiss do not get an extra weekday in lieu.

Several public holidays are marked by a majority of regions, but not quite all. These include Good Friday, Easter Monday, Pentecost and All Saints’ Day.

Some other public holidays are marked by multiple regions, and some cantons have their own holidays, including March 1st (Republic Day) in Neuchâtel; June 23rd (Jura Independence Day) in Jura; and June 29th (Feast of St Peter and St Paul) in Graubünden and Ticino. A few local communes also have additional public holidays.