New in Denmark

Star Wars and Danish Liberation Day

If you’re out and about in Denmark today, you’ll notice that the buses, official buildings and private individuals are flying the Danish flag today: Dannebrog (incidentally, the oldest national flag in the world).

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As regular readers will know, the thing I love about living among those crazy Danes is all the different traditions. Denmark is, on the face of it, a very modern country, but they have more holidays and traditions than you can stick a very big stick at. Hooray! Now, usually these special days are accompanied by a traditional Danish lunch (Easter, Whitsun, Christmas, etc), a Danish pastry (Fastelavnsboller for carnival) or bread roll (Bededag), etc.  Something edible. (More often than not washed down with a cold beer and a small snaps…)

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But Danmarks Befrielsesdag – Danish Liberation day – is marked in an entirely different way. The Germans surrendered on the Fourth of May 1945, and this message was brought to the Danes in a BBC radio broadcast at 8.36pm. (The surrender officially came into force the next morning, the Fifth of May 1945.) So many Danes will mark the occasion tonight by putting candles in their window. Just as they did on that night in 1945, when they were finally able to take down their blackout curtains (and burnt them in bonfires out on the streets) and placed candles there instead. A very beautiful and rather moving tradition that we also follow in our family.

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Happy Danish Liberation Day. May the force be with you!

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Diane :-)

 

 

Attention! It’s Ascension!

Hot on the heels of Big Prayer Day, I bring you yet another public service announcement…

This Thursday, 5 May 2016, we have yet another religious holiday where Denmark will basically be closed for business. What’s the occasion this time? Kristi Himmelfart. Literally, Christ’s Sky Flight. Or Ascension, as is the more boring name in English. Oh, yes, I may have lived in Copenhagen for 18 years but the Danish word ‘fart‘ still brings out the child in me! Don’t you just love the elevator buttons in Danish stations..? 😉

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But, as usual, I digress! Attention! Where were we? Ascension. Oh yes, Thursday is closed and Danish schools make ‘a bridge’ for this particular holiday and so schools will also be closed on Friday 6 May. But most workplaces will be open for business as usual.

And what do the Danes do for Ascension? Just like our last holiday (Big Prayer Day), it’s high season for confirmations, a spot of gardening and – if the Danish weather gods are with us – enjoying some hot and sunny weather. So far we have had a very cold spring. As regular readers will know, I’m a winterbather, and our sea temperature has been stuck on 5c/41f for weeks and weeks… Cheers with a hot cuppa!

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Have a great Kristi Himmelfart!

Diane :-)

 

Big Prayer Day? Time for big rolls!

With Easter behind us, we are counting down to the strangest day on the Danish religious calendar. This Friday, 22 April, is Stor Bededag. ’Big Prayer Day’! Those crazy Danes decided back in 1686 that there were just too many religious holidays during the year. So they lumped the minor ones together, four weeks after Easter and – voilà – Stor Bededag was born. It’s an official holiday so Denmark will be ‘closed’ on Friday, and the kids are off school. It’s time to get out in the garden, work on a DIY project, make a trip to Tivoli Gardens or just chill at home. And eat big rolls! (More on that later in this post.) But many Danes will make a day trip to Sweden or Germany, where it’s business as usual and cash registers will be working overtime.

Big Prayer Day was traditionally a time to fast and pray.  And, though I’ve yet to meet a Dane who willingly goes to church (apart – selvfølgelig – from christenings and weddings), a lot of Danes will be attending church this Friday.  Not for regular church services but for confirmation ceremonies. Which was actually the case for us last year, when it was our son’s turn to go through this very traditional Danish rite of passage…

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Want to know more about Danish confirmation and the traditional “Blue Monday” that follows it?  Then go read my post “When Blue Monday isn’t New Order!”

But the biggest tradition associated with Stor Bededag is eating hveder on Thursday night.  What are hveder?  Large, fluffy, pale, basic white bread rolls which you halve, toast and butter.  You’ll find them on sale at the bakers but be warned that – despite their modest ingredients – they don’t come cheap!

I gave up queuing for them at the bakers years ago and just buy the ready-made ones from the supermarket.  Best enjoyed warm with a nice cuppa!

After you’ve had your hveder, you’re supposed to go for a stroll around the city ramparts at Kastellet (Copenhagen Citadel).  You don’t live near Kastellet?  Well, sit back, relax and enjoy Denmark’s finest rock band, Magtens Korridorer singing about a picnic at the Citadel…  (If the guy pretending to sing in the video looks familiar, it’s Nicholas Bro, an actor who was in the The Killing (II) and Borgen. Oh! And let’s not forget the third season of Broen/Bron/The Bridge 😉

And me? I’m praying for some warmer weather. It has been exceptionally chilly (not to mention wet and windy) so far this spring, so we’re still waiting for everything to start blooming.

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God Stor Bededag!

Diane :)

Cycles of Life and Danish Funerals

Later this year I will be observing the 10th anniversary of my life in Denmark. It is a but remarkable to me that it has been 10 years but yes, it has been a decade. It was my American Dream to explore the “little land” and enjoy its people; to create a life for myself within Denmark that would be complementary to my life in the USA; and to get all the wonderful things I could from a life here. But I forgot that such a life over a long time would also include death, and so with the death of a dear friend, I have been to a Danish funeral.

Some time ago I wrote about my afternoon coffee times with Else. Sadly, one evening recently, I received a telephone call from her neighbor. I would not be celebrating Else’s 97th birthday with her. My name and telephone number was found among her things and someone knew I had coffee with her, so they asked if I would like to attend her funeral.

Yes, I wanted to pay my final respects and grieve the loss. I started my life in Denmark with a cup of coffee with her just a few weeks into my arrival. She was my Danish-American friend’s relative and it gave me a connection between the two places. I had been preparing to tell Else that my friend, her relative, had actually died recently – quite unexpectedly. Now, there was no need to tell her the tragic news. But I wished in a way that she was here to grieve him with me….and give me a workout on my Danish language skills.

But instead, on a brilliantly sunny but cold late winter day in March, having sought some advice about protocol, I did what you do for a Danish funeral.

I dressed all in black as a Danish friend advised me. I partially wondered if she thought I would wear a blazing red evening gown. We wear black to funerals in the USA…and most places in the world. Then, I stopped by a florist and asked for a small bunch of flowers for a funeral. Danish florists make you a small bouquet, flat one one side. Not the same as in the USA. I walked to the church, a traditional white Danish church, and inside found a wooden, painted altar that resembled those you see in orthodox churches. The walls inside the church were a simple white. Members of her late husband’s family were present, as were neighbors, and a few other friends like me.

danishclergyThere in the middle of the sanctuary floor was a small plain white wooden casket. A beautiful grand bouquet or deep red roses and baby’s breath was on the casket. A long row of smaller bouquets of various types of flowers extended in a line from the casket back towards the sanctuary entrance doors. The priest, a woman, was dressed in the traditional garb of Danish priests. I wear a beige linen robe with various stoles and a rope tie around my waist. She was dressed in black with a white collar. It is a variation on a 17th century gown and ruff (collar). Unlike in my Protestant tradition where I am ordained, she wore a collar that separated her body from her head.

The service was actually quite like my Protestant church at home. I knew the tunes to the hymns in Den Danske Salmebog so even if I did not grasp all the words, I could confidently sing the hymns with everyone else. Knowing the tune, I knew the hymns and two of them were quite comforting to my soul standing in Christian community with others who could sing those same words with understanding.

After a lovely short homily (not quite a long sermon) that reminisced about Else and her active life here on Earth, and some more hymns, the casket containing her physical body was taken out of the church by the pallbearers and we followed through the church yard, which had many gravestones. it was put in the hearse and during about five minutes of silence as we looked upon that tiny white wooden box, I was able to cry aloud at the loss of my friend. No more coffee in fine delicate yellow and white porcelain, no more talks, no more laughter, no more intense Danish danskesalmelanguage practice, no more sitting in the garden, no more coming up to the house and seeing her pop out from behind the door and carefully walk to the mailbox with a smile. No more chance to hold her beautiful hands, so lined with the wisdom of time. No more writing her a letter, in large cursive writing, to ask if I might come for coffee. No more waiting for a receiving a telephone call from her to extend to me a formal invitation to our coffee time after she had looked at her calendar.

Afterwards, I was invited to ride with those who had called me, back to what was Else’s house. There, as in the USA, we had something to eat and drink and chatted. Over smørrebrød, beer, coffee, tea and cookies and cake, we shared out memories. I got to introduce myself to many who had heard of me — the American woman who knew a distant relative in the USA and visited Else for coffee. I filled them in on my friend and on a few other relatives they have in the USA that they have not heard of for some time but which I know from my connections in the Danish-American community back home.

I carefully looked around the house again, imprinting everything in my memory. Then I was given a worn but carefully tended Bible, written in Danish with a leather cover and gold leaf pages. Printed in 1892 in Chicago Illinois in the USA, it was a confirmation gift between Else and her younger sister. There is precious handwriting in it, in Danish of course. I took it carefully, like a bar of gold. It is sealed in plastic now in a safe place.

Ten years have nearly come and gone for me in Denmark. A relationship that began with my arrival in Denmark is now an ending. Now, Else gets a new beginning in spirit in my mind. Now I look forward to a new beginning in my life and what life will be for me next, connected to Denmark, connected to the USA. I am richer for the 10 years.

I look forward to the resurrection and renewal of what will be.  I look forward to what blossoms in the near future from the seeds of the last 10 years. That is what spring is for.

Getting ready for Easter

If you live here in Denmark you’ll have noticed that the Danes are getting ready for Easter. They celebrate in big style, and the country will basically shut down tonight, Wednesday.  Despite being very low-key about religion, most of Denmark will be closed Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday.  So although you may find the occasional food store open, schools are closed, as are council offices and most businesses. Plus libraries and post offices (don’t expect to receive mail or parcels).  Museums, your local swimming pool and fitness club may have special opening hours. Buses and trains may be running on ‘holiday’ schedules. Check before you head out!  😉

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Today – Wednesday – is the biggest shopping day of the year aside from the last shopping days before Christmas.  Pretty amazing when you consider that people are only buying food and drink – not a Christmas gift in sight!  If you forget to stock up, you’ll need to hop over the Sound to Sweden (they’re open for business as usual on Thursday). Or prepare to run the gauntlet on Saturday.

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And what do the Danes actually do on all these holy holidays? Well, they don’t really head for church – they save that for Christmas. No, Easter is the time to eat, drink and be merry with family or friends. To get out in the garden. And get the garden furniture out (if you didn’t do it when spring officially started in Denmark on 1 March). Do some DIY. Get busy down at the allotment or open up your summer house and hope for fantastic spring weather! Here’s my DS16, many years ago, at our Swedish cabin, about to dig into some Easter chocolate…

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Me?  I’ll be doing a mixture of the above: a bit of gardening, an Easter egg hunt and friends coming to stay. Lots of eating and drinking. So I’m already stocked up with the Danish Easter essentials. And what do the Danes eat? Lamb selvfølgelig. Lots of påskebryg (Easter beer) and snaps. And the ubiquitous array of foods that you will see at Danish lunches (see my Christmas Advent Calendar post). Rejer (prawns), sild (herring), varm leverpostej (hot liverpâté), various meats like flæskesteg (roast pork) and rullepølse (rolled pork). One of my own faves is tarteletter (tart cases filled with a mixture of chicken and asparagus).  Look here for more about them.

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Get them while they’re hot!

There’ll be lots of cheese. Dainty biscuits and chocolates/chocolate eggs. Or you might want to serve this yummy Danish mazarinkage (marcipan cake).  Takes only 5 minutes to put together if you have a kitchen mixer! My recipe is here.

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And now? Let us pray. And hope the Danish weather gods are with us!

Skål! God Påske!

And if you are bored over Easter, then why not enjoy a good book. My cozy crime novel, set in Denmark, is finally here! “Death Comes to Strandvig” is now available on amazon – for less than the price of a cup of coffee! Links here to the international store and the UK store. Set in a small Danish town, there is plenty of hygge, a lot of winterbathing, traditional Danish food, iconic Scandinavian design, terrible jokes, a little romance and – selvfølgelig – a dead body! 😉

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I hope you enjoy it!

Diane  :)