Danish traditions For Members

Why is Kristi Himmelfart a public holiday in Denmark?

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
Why is Kristi Himmelfart a public holiday in Denmark?
People enjoying the sun on Hornbæk Strand beach in Mary 2021. Photo: Keld Navntoft/Ritzau Scanpix

Thursday May 18th marks the Christian feast of Kristi Himmelfart in Denmark, which as well as sounding a bit rude, means a day off work and the chance of a long weekend.


Kristi Himmelfart, literally "Christ's journey to heaven day", is the Danish word for the festival of Ascension, which Christians believe marks the day that Jesus ascended into heaven. 

It is always 40 days after Easter Sunday, and ten days before the Pentecost, which means that its exact date varies from year to year. The earliest possible date is April 30th, and the latest possible date is June 3rd.

But it always falls on a Thursday, offering the opportunity of a klemmedag, or "squeeze day", when only one work day falls between a public holiday and a weekend, meaning if workers take one day off of holiday, they can enjoy a four-day break. 

But why does Denmark give people a day off work on this day?

Ascension is actually one of the oldest religious holidays and in some ways one of the most important days in the Christian calendar. 

"Christ's ascension marks the end of Jesus' life on earth," the Church of Denmark writes on its website.  "The Church therefore not only celebrates that the Son of God came to Earth, but also that he left it again after the resurrection. It might sound like a strange event to celebrate. But God had to leave Earth as a man so that he could return as the Holy Spirit at Pentecost."

According to the national church, Kristi himmelfart has been celebrated in the country since at least the fourth century and it is a holiday in quite a few European countries.


Sweden, Norway, Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland all get a day off, although Spain, Italy and the UK do not.

Unlike Easter, Christmas, or even the former public holiday Store bededag or Great Prayer Day, Ascension isn't associated with any particular meal, cake or custom.

According to the church there was once a tradition that people would go out into the forest the night before Kristi himmelfart and collect beech branches, which were supposed to protect against witches.

According to another custom, people used to believe that if you aired your sheets on Kristi himmelfart they would be protected against moths. 

Churches across Denmark will hold a service where the hymn Kommer, sjæle, dyrekøbte ("Come, you dear-bought souls") by the influential Danish pastor politician and poet N. F. S. Grundtvig, is traditionally sung. 

Most Danes, though, don't really do anything at all to mark Ascension Day. They're just happy to have an extra day off. 


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