Easter in Denmark begins with the Danes getting the day before Good Friday off as a holiday, a practice which apparently costs the country 5 million kroner, according to Jyllands-Posten. This day is called Skærtorsdag, and it is known as Maundy Thursday in Christian countries around the world — where it is rarely a paid holiday (but the Danes do love their extensive number of spring days off from work).
The name Maundy is thought to come from the Latin word mandatum, the first word in the Biblical quote “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos” (“A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you”). The first part of the Danish name for the holy day, Skærtorsdag, comes from the Old Norse word skær, meaning clean. This is thought to be a reference to Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.
The food traditions of Skærtorsdag go back to early times, and were thought to have magical rather than Christian connotations. Skærtorsdagskål (Maundy Thursday cabbage) is a dish made by cooking several types of cabbage together with pork and other meats. When eaten on Maundy Thursday this was once believed to have the power to prevent a type of malaria formerly found in areas of Denmark with brackish coastal water.
Another version of this tradition, referred to as syv slags grønt (seven types of green), originally called for eating a soup made with nine kinds of fresh green vegetables (mostly cabbage) on Maundy Thursday—but this later this was often reduced to just seven kinds, especially since grass and nettles were sometimes needed to bring the total up to nine. This dish was undoubtedly based on a pre-Christian tradition celebrating the return of green plants in the spring.
Today we all recognize the nutritional value of green vegetables — the more the merrier. The food company Arla has published a recipe (in Danish) for Soup with 9 Types of Green that not only has nine types of greens but also bacon and a soft-cooked egg for extra flavor and protein. Of course in order to get up to the magical number nine, the recipe calls for parsley, chives, dill and chervil. But these herbs undoubtedly taste better than grass and nettles!