Easter is the Christian Church’s commemoration of Christ’s death and resurrection. Its place in the calendar year is governed by the moon, as Easter Day is the first Sunday after a full moon following the vernal equinox (21 March). Easter Day can therefore at the earliest fall on 22 March and at the latest on 25 April.
In the Danish national church version, the various Easter festivals are marked by the choice of readings and not, as for instance in Catholic countries, by imitating and dramatising the Gospel stories in the liturgy. The festivals celebrated are Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday.
The last residue of the old holiday legislation, which prohibited any kind of event that might disturb the service on church festivals, was removed in 1991. That is why various kinds of public entertainment are now permitted, just as certain shops may open. Easter allows five consecutive holidays and as a number of schools also give the children the remaining three days in Holy Week off, it can amount to ten consecutive holidays. That is why most Danes regard Easter as a holiday. A national survey in 2000 showed that 48% of the Danes attached particular importance to the family spending time together during Easter and 37% regarded it as a holiday; only 10% mentioned ‘attending Church’ and ‘the Christian message’ as the main feature of Easter.
For many, Easter is a symbol of the end of Winter and they therefore use their Easter holidays to begin Spring and Summer by opening up their holiday home, gardening, planting window boxes, etc.
The Easter Traditions
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. The eggs used for decoration may be ordinary hen’s eggs which have been blown out and coloured or they may be imitation eggs or various kinds of sugar and chocolate eggs. Other decorations include small artificial hens and chickens and gradually also the Easter hare, which formerly was almost exclusively common in the areas by the German border.
There is a unique Danish Easter tradition, viz. the custom of sending teaser letters. In the weeks before Easter especially children cut out elaborate letters, on which they write a so-called teaser verse. The letter is anonymous, but signed with a number of dots corresponding to the number of letters in the sender’s name, so that the recipient has a chance of guessing who sent it. The pledge is a chocolate Easter egg redeemed at Easter. The letter is accompanied by a snowdrop, which is regarded as the first flower of the year.
Easter food consists of eggs in many different versions, but otherwise people eat what is generally regarded as spring food, i.e. chicken, lamb and vegetables.
Easter Lunch, which is eaten both with family and friends, is an ordinary Danish lunch with herrings and other kinds of fish, little hot dishes, sliced meats and cheese. With it, most people drink beer and schnapps. For Easter, the breweries make a special Easter brew, which is stronger and therefore tastier than ordinary beer.
Also in the peasant culture, Easter was not only a Christian festival; it was primarily a spring festival, which was also associated with much popular superstition, for instance in connection with the weather from which auguries were taken.