They do most things differently in Scandinavia, from Christmas delicacies in Norway to New Year’s in the Nordics. Visitors and foreign residents alike are often surprised to discover that not only is Easter celebrated in unique ways in the region, but each Scandi country has its quirks too. Which is why I’m going to write about each one separately instead of trying to cram everything in one post.
Let’s start with Sarah Lund’s home, Denmark. Easter here is a delightful blend of traditional celebrations, unique customs, and festive cheer. Beyond the conventional Easter symbols and activities, there are numerous curious facts and intriguing details that make Danish Easter traditions truly distinctive.
Warning: Any article I write on fun facts about Easter in Denmark is obviously going to contain a LOT of egg-based puns…
This article takes a fun look at some fascinating tidbits about how Easter is observed in Denmark. I’ll explore entertaining trivia, surprising history, and quirky practices that reveal the lively spirit and rich cultural tapestry of Easter in this stylish Scandinavian country.
So let’s hop along and find out what sets these celebrations apart in my list of fun facts about Easter in Denmark!
History and Origins
The Danish name for Easter: In Danish, Easter is called Påske. This name has its origins in the Hebrew word Pesach, referring to Passover. The Danish term retains the biblical connection but has evolved phonetically over centuries.
Blending Christian and pagan traditions: While Easter in Denmark has its basis in Christian theology, many celebrations also blend older Nordic pagan customs associated with welcoming spring. This intermingling reflects the organic assimilation of cultural influences over Denmark’s history.
Witches’ gatherings on Maundy Thursday: In old Danish folklore, it was believed evil witches would fly on brooms to Brocken Mountain in Germany on Maundy Thursday (Skærtorsdag) before Easter. To protect homes from spells, people would place brooms over their doors!
The Easter Bunny arrived late: The tradition of the Easter Bunny bringing treats and hidden eggs to Danish children only became popular in the 1930s after spreading from Germany. Before this, gifts were brought by the Easter Cuckoo.
Eggs to pay church taxes: In the 1600s, Danish peasants often had to pay church taxes at Easter time through donations of eggs. Some churches even accepted eggs as payment for sins!
A numbers game: The Danish Easter calendar varies each year since the holiday falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. But Easter always lands between March 22nd and April 25th.
Royal Easter traditions: The Danish royal family spends Easter at Marselisborg Palace. Flag traditions include raising the Dannebrog at midnight on Easter and flying it on the Queen’s birthday.
Witchy Easter lore: Folk tales say that on Maundy Thursday, witches would fly on broomsticks to a German mountain, returning the next day to wreak havoc. To protect houses, brooms were placed on doors!
Unique Traditions and Customs
Snowdrop letters with rhyming riddles: The Danish tradition of sending Gækkebreve – intricately decorated teaser letters containing rhyming riddles and clues to the sender’s identity – dates back to the 1800s. This playful custom adds a touch of mystery!
Easter beer with a unique flavour: Påskebryg is a special dark, malty seasonal beer brewed just for Easter. Usually stronger than regular beers, it’s meant to complement the hearty Easter meals. Skål!
Gathering nine types of greens: In the past, Danes made Skærtorsdagssøbe, a soup with nine different cabbages and greens on Maundy Thursday. The number nine held superstitious significance.
Flying the flag at half-mast: To mark the solemnity of Good Friday, it’s customary to fly the Danish flag at half-mast on this day, unlike the joyous celebrations of Easter Sunday.
Easter egg painting: Using wax resist techniques, Danish artists create intricate, decorative designs on chicken eggs as part of traditional Easter egg decorating customs.
Easter letters: Intricately braided and baked “Easter letters” made from cardamom bread are cracked open to reveal chocolate candies hidden inside.
Greeting cards: Store-bought and handmade Easter greeting cards called påskekort are exchanged between friends and family around Easter time.
Egg dance: In a folk tradition, people would dance around eggs laid on the ground without cracking them – believed to bring a bountiful harvest and luck.
Bonfire nights: Easter bonfires are lit in some communities, harkening back to old pagan ceremonies welcoming spring by burning an effigy.
Traditions and Customs
These mischievous letters contain short rhyming poems with clues to reveal the sender’s identity. The recipient must guess correctly to receive an Easter egg prize! Children embrace this game with enthusiasm.
The sumptuous Easter lunch is centred around family togetherness. Herring, lamb, snaps, and Påskebryg beer are served while attendees sing hymns and share memories.
Miniature trees decorated with painted eggs, chicks, and bunnies are displayed in homes. Originally made from willow branches, modern Easter trees use birch branches or plastic.
Folktales say witches would gather to fly off to Germany on Maundy Thursday before Easter. Danes would protect homes by placing brooms across doors.
The Danish flag flies at half-mast on Good Friday to mark Jesus’ crucifixion. Flags are raised joyfully on Easter Sunday.
In rural communities, people would carefully dance around eggs laid on the ground, meant to bring a good harvest and fortune.
Store-bought and handmade Easter greeting cards are exchanged between friends, family, and neighbours around Easter time.
The pagan tradition of lighting bonfires on Easter to burn effigies and welcome spring is still seen in some areas.
Fun Food Facts
Under the rye bread: Early Easter eggs were sometimes hidden under piles of rye bread and whoever found the egg would receive good luck.
All the herring: Danes consume over 1000 tons of pickled herring every Easter! With some creativity, chefs have expanded flavours beyond the traditional matjes style.
Not for the faint-hearted: Solæg, eggs pickled in a strong brine solution for several days, are a Danish Easter speciality. Their unusual salty flavour is an acquired taste!
The perfect match: Snaps, a potent schnapps-like spirit usually flavoured with herbs, is a traditional Easter accompaniment meant to pair well with the substantial saltiness of fish dishes.
Bread-shaped surprises: In a sweet spin on Gækkebreve, bakers now create intricately braided “Easter letters” using cardamom bread – crack them open for a hidden chocolatey centre!
A royal Easter brew: The Danish brewery Carlsberg makes a special Easter beer every year that’s officially served at the queen’s lunch table. Skål!
Eggs-travagant ingredients: A traditional Easter soup called skidne æg featured boiled eggs in mustard sauce, cream, and horseradish – an eggs-quisite combo!
The original Easter eggs: Long ago when chickens didn’t lay eggs all winter, the first eggs appearing in spring were treasured as signs of rebirth.
Pickled and preserved: Centuries before refrigeration, eggs had to be pickled, salted, or smoked to preserve them before indulging in Easter feasts.
Eggs on parade: In Ebeltoft’s annual Easter tradition, eggs are paraded through town on large festive wagons before being released into the fjord in a nod to rebirth.
Fluffy chicks: Colorful fluffy chicks and bunnies often decorate Danish homes and gardens, along with wreaths and floral crosses made from pussy willow branches.
Papercutting artistry: Using scissors and paper, Danes make elaborate Julehjerter (Easter hearts) to decorate or exchange as gifts. This traditional papercutting craft spans generations.
All creatures great and small: Danish Easter figures called Påskekringler are made of marzipan or chocolate moulded into the shapes of chickens, ducks, eggs, rabbits and lambs.
Eggs-cellent costumes: Some Easter parades in Denmark feature people dressed in oversized Easter egg costumes adding a touch of humour and creativity. Even regular eggs get costumes!
Egg wagons: In some Easter parades, elaborately decorated wagons carrying piles of eggs are pulled through town accompanied by costumed characters and musicians.
Table decor: Small decorative birch branches, mini Easter trees, and handcrafted place cards adorn Danish Easter lunch tables.
Front door wreaths: Intricate wreaths made from pussy willow branches, flowers, and ribbons are hung on front doors to welcome spring.
Bonfire effigies: Figures stuffed with straw symbolizing winter or evil spirits are burned in traditional Easter bonfire ceremonies to celebrate spring.
Fun for Kids
Eggcellent rolling: In Denmark’s version of egg rolling, hardboiled eggs are rolled down small grassy slopes. Players race to catch their egg at the bottom with the winner usually promised an Easter treat!
Riddles and dot codes: Children take the Gækkebrev tradition very seriously! They get creative with rhymes and take pride in intricately cutting patterns to disguise their identity from the recipient.
Egg-dyeing masters: Danish kids take Easter egg decorating to artistic levels using wax resist techniques, stickers, and an array of dye colours to create stunning patterns like splatter designs.
Buzzy Easter helpers: Some parents tell their children that bees bring the Easter eggs and hide them around the house and garden, adding an element of mystery!
Hopping through fields: Easter egg hunts where children search through grassy fields to fill up their baskets with chocolate treasures are a beloved annual ritual.
Egg toss: A popular Easter game involves kids tossing hardboiled eggs to each other, taking a step back after each catch. If your egg breaks, you’re out!
Egg jeopardy: Using long spoons, kids race to carry eggs across a distance without breaking them – dropped eggs means you start over!
The Easter Hare: Folktales about an Easter Hare bringing eggs and treats to accompany Danish kids’ Easter celebrations.
Egg helpers: Danish children write letters addressed to the Easter Hare asking him to come and hide eggs for them.
Cracking up: Kids compete to see who can crack the most eggs against their forehead in a silly game, though plastic eggs are used to avoid a mess!
Fun Facts About Easter in Denmark: Key Takeaways
- Danes consume over 1000 tons of herring for Easter meals
- Maundy Thursday was thought to be when witches would gather
- Gækkebreve are rhyming letters containing clues about the sender
- Easter trees with decorations are commonly displayed
- Snaps & Påskebryg beer are traditional Easter drinks
- Eggs were once used to pay church taxes at Easter time
- Bonfires are lit in some areas to celebrate the arrival of spring
- Hardboiled eggs are rolled down hills in a popular children’s game
- Intricate Easter greeting cards are exchanged between friends and family
- Stores close early the day before Easter so employees can celebrate