Learn How the Danes Celebrate Easter
Easter is an important holiday in Denmark, giving the Danes a chance to celebrate the arrival of spring after the long, dark Scandinavian winter.
Despite being a predominantly secular country, Easter is eagerly anticipated by the people of Denmark as a chance to celebrate the arrival of spring, enjoy specially brewed “Easter beer” and to spend time with friends and family over a lengthy break from work and school.
Second only to Christmas in popularity, Easter is an occasion of celebration and fun for the Danes. Not long after the Christmas and New Year’s festivities are over, shops prepare for the arrival of Easter with decorations and cards, giving the Danes a glimmer of hope in the midst of the cold and dark Scandinavian winter.
The Easter Holidays in Denmark
Easter Sunday in Denmark is called Påske, a name derived from the Hebrew “Pesach” or Passover. In Denmark, however, Easter is a celebration lasting over several days. Traditionally, Danish shops and businesses are closed over Skærtorsdag (Maundy Thursday), Langfredag (Good Friday) and the Monday following Easter Sunday, known as Anden Påskedag, or the Second Easter, making for a lengthy holiday break. Schools are usually closed for the entire week preceding Easter. Shops reopen briefly on Saturday for a generalized assault by those who have run out of supplies.
With all of these days off, there is plenty of time to celebrate. However, in Denmark, Easter celebrations actually begin much earlier than Maundy Thursday.
Easter in Denmark – Beer, Daffodils, Eggs and Mysterious Letters
Around a month before Easter, special Påskeøl, or Easter beer, begins appearing at the shops and pubs. Traditional Easter beer is on offer from both major Danish brands, Carlsberg and Tuborg, but recently many microbreweries have begun producing their own version of Easter beer, offering the beer drinker plenty of choices for his holiday tipple. Påskeøl is an important Easter tradition in Denmark and its arrival in the shops signals that spring is on its way.
Another Easter tradition that is unique to Denmark is the sending of “gækkebrev” or “teaser letters”. These letters, traditionally sent out in mid-February, are usually highly decorated affairs on which a little poem or verse is written. The letters are anonymous, signed only by dots corresponding to the number of letters in the sender’s name. The object of the letter is for the receiver to guess who sent it. If he or she guesses correctly, the sender owes the receiver a chocolate Easter egg. If, however, the receiver fails to identify the sender, he or she owes the person sending the letter the egg.
Decorating for Easter is another important tradition in Denmark. Easter decorations are typically green and yellow in colour with eggs, daffodils and other symbols of new life and spring such as chicks and lambs, festooning Danish homes. Chocolate Easter eggs are the most popular Easter gift and are exchanged between friends and family, adults and children alike.
Of course no holiday in Denmark is complete without a large celebratory meal. The traditional Danish Easter lunch consists of a generous spread of fish, lamb, pickled herring, cheese and meats, accompanied by Easter beer and snaps, a Scandinavian liquor. The meal is followed by a selection of cakes and desserts as well as the ever-present Easter eggs. The lunch table is decorated with daffodils and other Easter decorations.
Churches are naturally open for business over the Easter holidays for special services and enjoy higher attendance rates than on a normal Sunday. Many Danes choose Easter as one of their designated bi-annual visits to church. Despite the Christian origins of Easter, most Danes see the long holiday as simply a chance to have fun, play tricks on one another and enjoy a delicious feast with family and friends.