Monday, November 18, 2013


There are many holidays in Denmark, some with days off and others that are not officially observed with a day off.  I’m listing in detail the ones where you do get a day off. I’ll just list in brief the others the ones where you still have to show up to work.

New Year’s Day (January 1):  According to the law, most shops and businesses close at 3pm on New Year’s Eve.  A lot of people start the evening off with an elaborate homemade meal, followed by a lot of alcohol. (Sounds like my kind of night.)  Traditionally the Queen gives a televised speech at 6pm on New Year’s Eve night, and the stroke of midnight is welcomed with champagne and kransekage (a type of almond ring cake), and of course, fireworks, and then probably more alcohol.

Maundy Thursday (varies, 3 days before Easter): According to the Bible, Maundy Thursday is the day during Holy Week in which traditions say this is the night in which Jesus offers Holy Communion to the Disciples during the Last Supper.  Some churches hold evening services followed by a meal together because of this. And the Danish word for this day literally translates out to “clean Thursday,” possibly stemmed from Jesus washing the feet of the disciples before the meal. 

Good Friday (varies, 2 days before Easter):  On this day, candles are not lit inside the churches due to the solemn nature of the day, commemorating Jesus’ crucifixion and death. A special service is held in the evening, although some hold their services at 3pm.  There is usually a reading of the Passion and choral singing. 

Easter Sunday (varies):  This is the day Christians believe that Jesus rose from the dead.  Many homes have been decorated in green and yellow, and you’ll see Easter eggs everywhere.  Another Easter tradition that kids do is a series of teaser letters starting a few weeks before Easter. These are anonymously written with a verse as to the identity of the author, signed by only a series of dots, each for the number of letters in your name. After three letters, the recipient has to guess who the author is, and if you guess right, you get a chocolate Easter egg. Church services are attended in the morning followed by an elaborate meal for lunch.  This usually consists of chicken, lamb, fish, vegetable dishes, cheeses, and a lot of beer.

Easter Monday (varies):  This day is more or less a continuation of Easter. There are also special services in which readings from the Bible are a common way of retelling the stories of what happen after Jesus was resurrected. 

General Prayer Day (varies, 4th Friday after Easter): Also known as Great Prayer Day.  Basically, they took a lot of minor Christian feast days and other holidays and rolled them all into one day.  Many churches ring their bells on the eve of this day, and people will often eat a type of bread called varme hveder.  Some people used to walk the ramparts of the city, but nowadays most people walk along the waterfront areas. This is also a common day for churches to hold confirmations.

Labour Day (May 1):  Not everyone gets this day off; only the blue collar workers get to enjoy a free day.  A lot of people attend labor meetings to discuss the labor issued at hand. Labor unions will join other labor unions in marches celebrating major labor reforms in the past.

Ascension Day (varies, 39 days after Easter):  This holiday takes place 39 days after Easter and commemorates the Christian belief that this is the day which Jesus Christ ascended into heaven after rising from the dead.  Traditionally, this is also the day in which the Easter candle (also known as the Paschal candle) is extinguished.

Constitution Day (June 5):  This holiday goes back to 1849 and the signing of the Danish constitution establishing the country as a constitutional monarchy.  Some political meetings and functions may be held on this day, but generally, it’s not a huge holiday.  It also happens to be the same day as Father’s Day. 

Pentecost (varies, 7 weeks after Easter):  Pentecost is thought of as the foundation of the Church.  Because of the proverbial correlation between Jesus and the sun, many people stay up all night to wait for the sun to rise.  In some of the rural areas, it was a common time to whitewash all the buildings.  In recent times, large Whitsun procession through the streets of Copenhagen. 

Whit Monday (varies, day after Pentecost): Often considered the second day of Pentecost, it got its name from wearing white baptismal fonts on this day.  It’s a common time for people to be baptized. 

Christmas (December 24-26): The use of candles at Christmas goes back to pagan days and the early days after Christianization. In fact, they utilized and merged many pagan traditions in with Christian traditions.  And from the beginning, this has always been a holiday that is centered around family.  They do put up Christmas trees (a tradition borrowed from nearby Germany) and decorate their homes with paper decorations and make sweets for the entire month of December.  However, Danes have become friends with the Christmas “nisse,” a mythical old man who wears a grey sweater, grey pants, red stockings, and a red cap who will hand out good fortune in exchange for porridge.  (Hmm, I have some grits in my cabinet. Wonder if that works? And he sort of seems like an old professor I had in college.) Several other traditions, like mistletoe and Santa Claus, were introduced from other countries.  Of course gifts are exchanged, and there are many other smaller traditions like paper Christmas hearts, singing Christmas carols, the Christmas lunch featuring herring, and a lot of sweet and succulent and savory foods.

Now, here is a brief list of other holidays celebrated in Denmark:  Crown Princess Mary’s birthday (February 5), Valentine’s Day (February 14), Fastelavn (varies, 7 weeks before Easter), Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter), April Fool’s Day (April 1), Occupation of Denmark (April 9), Queen Margrethe II’s birthday (April 16), Princess Benedikte’s birthday (April 29), Liberation Day (May 5), Crown Prince Frederik’s birthday (May 26), Prince Joaquim’s birthday (June 7), Prince Henrik’s birthday (June 11), Day of Valdemar and Reunion Day (June 15), Saint John’s Eve (June 23), Halloween (October 31), Saint Martin’s Eve (November 10), Saint Lucy’s Day (December 13). 

Up next: art and literature

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