You might think that Store Bededag (“Great Prayer Day”) is a modern Danish invention, created to efficiently combine several religious holidays no longer celebrated by Danes going to church. Danish church attendance, except for major life events and the big holidays of Easter and Christmas, is indeed astonishly low among the 80% of the population belongs to the state-supported Lutheran Church.
But Store Bededag, which is May 16 this year, actually dates back to 1686, when it was created by King Christian V at the suggestion of Bishop Hans Bagger of Roskilde to consolidate several of the minor Roman Catholic holidays that survived the Reformation (and thus have more work days for laborers). Since that time it has been celebrated on the 4th Friday after Easter as part of a series of days off after the long Danish winter.
There is actually very little celebration associated with Store Bededag except the tradition of eating varme hveder, a type of warm, toasted wheat bun, the evening before. The tradition began when bakers, forbidden by law from opening their bakeries on Store Bededag itself, started making these buns the day before so that parishioners could toast them at home on the holiday. It eventually became the custom to eat them fresh on Thursday evening instead of waiting until Friday.
Many Danes wax nostalgic at the very aroma of varme hveder, which are traditionally eaten toasted and buttered. If you would like to make your own, the famed Claus Meyer offers a recipe (in Danish) on his web site. The Kitchens of Kiki blog by Kirsten Lauridsen has a translation of this recipe to English.
Efforts to do away with Store Bededag have met with opposition — who would want to eliminate a day off from work, and a tasty tradition to boot? There may not be much praying done on Great Prayer Day, but one can be certain that those who can get outside celebrate by enjoying this precious day of Danish springtime.
We are pleased to announce that Eat Smart in Denmark, our culinary guide to Danish food, will be published in August, 2014. It includes a section on Danish regional food and holiday traditions such as this one.