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Traditions in Denmark

In Denmark, great attention is paid to traditions and festivals, though without great ceremony. Many Danish traditions are based around the Christian calendar, with Christmas, Easter and St. John’s Eve (at the end of June) being some of the most important and typically spent together with family.

Other important celebrations include the carnival “Fastelavn” in February, New Year and Great Prayer Day, which was established to combine several traditional holidays into one day. There are also May Day (Labour Day) and April Fools Day, where Danes tease each other with pranks and outlandish stories. In recent years, Danes have also started to embrace both Valentine´s Day and Halloween.

14 February - Valentine's Day

In the early 1990s, the Danes began to celebrate Valentine’s Day as the great day of love, inspired by the American custom. It is especially the young and people in love who use the day as an occasion to show their love for each other. Hearts made of flowers, chocolate, pasta or cake are just a few examples of the available options.

February/March - Shrovetide

Shrovetide is a children’s festival, they dress up – usually on Quinquagesima Sunday – and go around with their collection tins which they try to get filled with money. Read more about Shrovetide

March/April - Easter

Many homes and shops are decorated for Easter in green and yellow, especially with new-leaved branches and daffodils. The main symbol of Easter is still the egg. Read more about Easter

1 April - April Fools Day

As in many other countries, the Danes also tease each other with fictitious stories etc on 1 April. The tradition, which dates back to the 17th century, has also been adopted by the big mass media and on 1 April newspaper readers and television viewers must therefore be particularly alert.

April/May Great Prayer Day

Great Prayer Day is a special Danish festival falling on the fourth Friday after Easter Sunday, i.e. at the earliest on 17 April and at the latest on 21 May.  Read more about Great Prayer Day

May - Mother's day

In Denmark, Mother’s Day is celebrated on the second Sunday in May. Since 1929, it has been a widespread custom to please one’s mother with for instance a bunch of flowers. The custom, which originally had a social purpose, comes from the USA.

1 May

1 May is the international workers’ campaign and festival day and a holiday in many workplaces. In many cities, people gather in the early afternoon – sometimes after having walked in procession – for a mixture of popular festival, political speeches and entertainment. The largest event takes place in the Copenhagen park 'Fælledparken' (Copenhagen Common). The day has gradually become more of a festival day than a campaign day.

5 May - Denmark's Liberation

After having been occupied by Germany since 9 April 1940, Denmark became free again on 5 May 1945. When the liberation was announced in the 8.30pm BBC broadcast on 4 May 1945, many Danes spontaneously placed lit candles in their windows. This became a custom that is still kept up by many Danes.

May/June - Pentecost/Whitsun

Pentecost is a Church festival celebrated to mark the advent of the Holy Spirit and the founding of the Church. The Christian Pentecost is also associated with the awakening of nature at Whitsun. It falls 50 days after Easter, i.e. at the earliest on 11 May and at the latest on 14 June. Read more about Pentecost

5 June - Constitution Day

5 June is the anniversary of the coming in force of the first Danish Constitution, the June Constitution of 1849. The day, which in many places is a full or half holiday, is celebrated around the country with political rallies, which especially formerly were in the nature of popular festivals, for instance on the popular nature spots Himmelbjerget and Skamlingsbanken in Jutland. It is also Father’s Day, which was introduced from the USA in 1935.

15 June - Valdemar's Day

According to the legend, the Danish flag, Dannebrog, on this day fell from the sky by Lyndanise in Estonia, where King Valdemar II the Victorious was crusading in 1219. Since 1913, the day has been a national flag day when little Danish flags are sold. Until 1948, the day was a school holiday and it was celebrated with Valdemar Festivals around the country.

23 June - St. John's Eve

The Danes often meet with family and friends to have dinner together. If the weather is good, they then proceed to a local bonfire venue. Read more about St. John's Eve

November - All Saint's Day

All Saints’ Day, which is celebrated on the first Sunday in November, was originally a commemoration day for the dead saints held on 1 November. The day survived the Reformation, but the Protestants combined it with All Souls’ Day, which was on 2 November. The day was abolished as a church festival in 1770, but is celebrated by the church on the first Sunday in November. In recent years, it has become common in many churches to commemorate those dead during the year on the day itself. The tradition of placing candles on the graves the evening before All Saints’ Eve is becoming more common. So is the American Halloween where the children dress up as ghosts etc and go around ringing door bells like at Shrovetide. When the door is opened, they say ‘trick or treat’ (in English). If they are not given a cookie or money, they make trouble – like at Shrovetide.

10 November - Martinmas Eve

Martinmas Eve is the evening before St Martin’s Day. Many Danes eat roast duck or goose on this evening. According to the legend, Martin was revealed by some geese when he modestly hid to avoid becoming a bishop. He therefore decided that every year on this day, 11 November, the geese must lose their lives to be eaten.

December - The Christmas Month

The whole month of December is dominated by Christmas. In most towns, the main shopping streets are decorated with fir garlands and lights. In squares and gardens, there are Christmas trees with fairy lights, a custom dating back to 1914, when the first Christmas tree was lit on the Town Hall Square in Copenhagen. In recent years, it has also become common to cover many other trees or objects with fairy lights. Read more about Christmas in Denmark

31 December - New Year

Unlike Christmas, which most people spend with their family, New Year is celebrated with the friends. New Year’s Eve is framed by two important items broadcast on television and radio, viz. respectively the monarch’s New Year Speech at 6pm and the striking of midnight by the Town Hall Clock in Copenhagen, which marks the start of the new year.

The monarch’s New Year Speech has virtually become a national rallying point since it was first made in 1942 during the German Occupation, when the King called for national unity.

Many Danes party with various kinds of good food followed by champagne and marzipan ring cake at midnight. The New Year is greeted with fireworks after midnight; they include both noisy bangs and rockets, etc which light up the night sky in many different colours. In many parts of the country, the traditional New Year’s Eve menu is boiled cod, the so-called New Year’s cod, or stewed kale and cured saddle of pork. It is characteristic of both dishes that they are less fattening than the calorie-rich Christmas dishes.

The high jinks traditionally associated with a transition, such as the start of a new year, have almost disappeared along with the close relationship with the neighbours. The last trace of the dressing up associated with some of the high jinks is found in the paper hats which together with streamers and balloons constitute the traditional New Year’s decorations.

FlickrPictures from Denmark