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Easter

Easter 2018 and 2019

Easter traditions in Denmark are reasonably strong church-centered, but there is also much secularization of the Easter holidays.

YearDateDayHoliday
201829 MarThuMaundy Thursday
30 MarFriGood Friday
1 AprSunEaster Sunday
2 AprMonEaster Monday
201918 AprThuMaundy Thursday
19 AprFriGood Friday
21 AprSunEaster Sunday
22 AprMonEaster Monday
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The Kingdom of Denmark lies on the shores of the Baltic Sea just north of Germany and has a population of almost six million people. Three-quarters of Danes are members of the Lutheran state church known as the Church of Denmark, but only three percent attend services regularly. More indicative still of the secular mindset is a 2010 poll where only 28 percent of Danes said they believed in the existence of God, 24 percent denied his existence, and the rest were not sure. In 2009, only 25 percent of Danes said that they believed Jesus to be the Son of God.

Originally, Easter was a pagan celebration in Scandinavian nations like Denmark, but after the arrival of Christianity, it came to be celebrated as the day of Christ’s Resurrection. The Germanic tribes celebrated the arrival of spring, after the long, bleak winter months, by festivities designed to honor the goddess of the dawn- Ostara, from which the English word “Easter” is ultimately derived. Some other symbols, like rabbits and eggs for fertility, have also survived, but most of the old pagan traditions, such as those involving witches and bonfires, have now died out in Denmark. Very little remains of the pre-Christian Easter.

The egg, however, does remain as the main symbol of Easter in Denmark. This tradition was also strengthened through the centuries by the fact that eggs were highly valued in early spring. As hens laid few eggs in the dark winter months, eggs were once so valuable that they were used as a form of payment to local pastors, parish clerks, and common servants.

The Church of Denmark celebrates Easter time for all of Holy Week, but they do not use processions and dramas like the Catholics often do. Instead, they simply have special services with various Bible readings. The days mainly celebrated are Palm Sunday, when Christ entered Jerusalem; Maundy Thursday, when the Last Supper occurred; Good Friday, when Jesus died on the cross; Easter Sunday, when he rose from the grave; and Easter Monday, which simply allows for a long Easter weekend. Many school children are off during Holy Week, ostensibly that they might attend the services of the Church of Denmark, but a 2000 survey showed only 10 percent seeing church attendance and the Christian message as the main reason for Easter. Time with family and recreation were instead more associated with the holiday in the minds of most Danes.

One major Danish Easter tradition is to decorate homes and businesses in green and yellow colors, with daffodils, and with leafy branches. Window boxes are planted, gardens are spruced up and planted, and eggs are elaborately decorated. Figurines of hens are also a common Easter ornament, and the Easter Hare is now common, though once he was only seen in the parts of Denmark near the German border.

One of the most unique Easter customs of the Danes is that of “teaser letters“. As early as several weeks before Easter, children and others will create elaborately patterned pieces of paper by folding and cutting with scissors. These will then be used to write an anonymous poem on. The letter will usually be given to some family member or another, and the sender’s name will be represented by a series of dots. The number of dots corresponds to the number of letters in the sender’s name, which along with the contents of the poem, is the only clue given. A prize, normally a chocolate Easter egg on Easter Day, is the reward for guessing who sent the letter. Snow-drop flowers, a symbol of early spring, are also printed on the letters.

Danes also have their Easter food traditions. First of all, eggs are consumed in abundance and in many forms. Second, “spring foods” like lamb, chicken, and vegetables are eaten. Third, a special Easter lunch is eaten on Sunday as a family meal. Some of the main foods at the feast include: herrings, other sorts of fish, various cheeses and sliced meats, meatballs, and a special, rather strong Easter brew known as “akvavit.” Finally, there is much effort put into decorating the table itself with colored napkins, table cloths, and flowers such as daffodils.

Easter Events in Denmark

For those who might wish to visit Denmark around Easter time, we list below three major events in Denmark’s three largest cities. Some other things to do while already in town are included for convenience.

  • In Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital and largest city, you can attend the Easter Flea Market. It is a gigantic antique market with over 500 booths to peruse. While in town, you can cruise down Copenhagen’s famous city canals, visit its many museums and art galleries, and enjoy the spring season at its numerous parks.
  • In Aarhus, the second-largest city in Denmark, Easter time sees the opening of the Tivoli Friheden theme park. Roller coasters, bumper cars, and much more await. Aarhus’ museums put up special exhibits around Easter time as well, and the lakes and forests in and near town are very beautiful.
  • In Odense, the third-largest town of Denmark and the native home of Hans Christian Andersen, you may wish to visit the Hans Christian Andersen House and a replica village from his time. There is also the City Museum, a sizable zoo, and a railroad museum.

In Denmark, there is a lingering religious celebration of Easter, though the trend is more toward the secular. While Danish Easters resemble those in other northern European nations to a degree, there are also unique features to appreciate. By visiting Denmark during Holy Week, your trip will be much enriched.