Easter in Denmark… nothing makes an expat miss home like the holidays. Easter isn’t a big deal for me, but my birthday always falls on or around Easter, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs, and York Peppermint Patties in pastel wrappers have a special place in my heart.
When I was a little girl, my great-grandmother always bought me a new Easter dress. Picking out a fancy dress was one of the highlights of my year. It felt like Easter would never come, and it may as well have been my wedding dress for as carefully as I chose it and as much as I looked forward to wearing it!
As I got older, Easter became less and less significant, until my little sister started a tradition of making me an Easter basket. Then it was special again.
The thing about living abroad is that you can embrace your local culture as much as you want, but the traditions will never be yours, and most of the holidays you’re used to don’t even exist in your world anymore.
Denmark is a country of strong traditions, and while for me, the highlight is the 5 day weekend known as “Påskeferie,” there are a number of traditions specific to Easter in Denmark that are as important to the Danes as those Easter dresses and baskets are to me.
Easter in Denmark
Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday are all national holidays… serious national holidays, not US national holidays. If you show up to IKEA on any of these days, you’ll find locked doors and an empty parking lot.
Shops are for the most part closed for the duration, except on Saturday where you may be able to scrounge together enough groceries to tide you over until things re-open on Tuesday. Many a new expat in Denmark have found themselves ill prepared for the seriousness of Påskeferie.
When I first moved to Denmark, I heard a lot of people talking about their summerhouses. I thought, “wow, Danes much be rich, everyone’s got a summerhouse!” Then I was invited to Påskefrokost at someone’s summerhouse… a tiny, musty shack surrounded by other tiny, musty shacks.
Påskefrokost is Easter lunch, and it’s commonly the first event of the season at Danish summerhouses. It’s pretty much a day long meal that stretches from lunch to dinner. It consists mostly of things vegetarians don’t eat like herring, lamb, and cold cuts.
No Danish event would be complete without copious amounts of alcohol. For Påske, this means snaps, usually akvavit, which tastes like caraway seeds… blech! There’s also Påskebryg, a special beer that’s launched in early March and only available until Easter.
And cake… there’s always plenty of cakes in Denmark :)
In English, these would be called “teasing letters.” They’re letters containing short poems, and they’re signed using one dot for each letter in the sender’s name. The recipient has to guess the name of the sender, if they guess correctly, they get a chocolate Easter egg, and if they get it wrong, they have to give a chocolate egg to the sender.
I don’t get this one, I think it’s mostly a way for grandparents to amuse young grandchildren, but doesn’t every culture have a silly tradition or two?
Eggs & Candy
Eggs are also a big part of Easter in Denmark. Eggs are often served at Påskefrokost, and egg tosses are a popular activity. Royal Copenhagen produces a new porcelain Easter egg each year, which can be opened and filled with candy.
Speaking of candy, Danes on average eat eight kilos of sweets per person, per year. Yikes!
Danish Easter candy fails to impress me… it’s the usual assortment of licorice in awkward combinations and lots of marzipan. Someone really needs to enlighten them about chocolate and peanut butter!
There’s not much going on for Easter here in my world, mostly I’m just gleeful about not having to go to work.
In Denmark, we get 6 weeks of paid leave per year and the year runs from May to May… that means I have to use up all of my days by May 1, or I’ll lose them. So I’ve stacked my remaining days against the Easter holidays and I’m off work until April 20th!!!
Happy Easter, if you celebrate… and please eat a Reese’s Egg and a pastel wrapped York Peppermint Patty (or two) in my honor :)
Maybe little sister can send you some Reese’s eggs and York patties?
I’m sure she would, but it wouldn’t be worth the import duties which are charged on the price of the items + postage :(
Denmark sounds so interesting, I love that they have all those traditions surrounding Easter. If we had to shut down stores for 4 days around Easter in the US we would probably cripple the economy. But doing that really accentuates the true meaning of the Holiday. Thank you for sharing this, I found it fascinating :)
PS you should add a twitter share button I wanted to tweet this!!
Thanks for mentioning that… I’ve added a Twitter share button :)
Terry My Journey With Candida says
How nice to learn about Easter traditions in Denmark. It is always nice to learn how other countries celebrate their special traditions.
I am like you, as Easter isn’t as important to me as it was when I was younger. I do enjoy getting together with my family and that makes it very important!!
Becky Fry (momof-3boys.com) says
I’ve always wanted to travel and experience traditions like this. I find it so intriguing to learn how someone else views/interpretes a holiday. Thank you for sharing and explaining what each tradition is. I’m sure the Danes are very proud of their summer houses, I’ve heard that most European houses are smaller then we are used to so the tiny summer house doesn’t surprise me, it’s a bit funny though! 6 weeks is great for a Holiday away…are you just staying home?
Yes! When I first moved here I couldn’t believe how tiny the living spaces were… and no closets! Five years later, I still miss American living standards. It’s a different lifestyle over here for sure.
I travel for most of the six weeks. Last year, we took 6 trips. This year, we’ve already been to Greece and have two more trips planned between now and July. And there will be more :)
Shirley Wood says
Some of the Danish holiday traditions sound quite inviting like having businesses closed for so long. We live to fast here in the U.S. It would be nice to slow down sometimes. Those 6 weeks of vacation days sounds awesome too!!
Those summer houses sounds like a good idea as a central place for big family gatherings. I’d want mine to be nicer though.
So interesting to hear how folks like in other countries! I don’t know how long I’d last without peanut butter and chocolate though!
At first it seemed so strange and inconvenient to have everything completely shut down for holidays, but I’ve grown to like it. It forces me to slow down and relax. It’s peaceful and calming.
And those 6 weeks off are one of the major reasons I never want to move back to the US. I can’t believe I used to make due with 1 or 2 weeks off, that’s crazy!
Fi Ní Neachtáin says
How lovely that your grandmother got you and Easter dress every Easter, that’s a tradition I’d love to do with my own daughters or granddaughters one day. Easter in Denmark sounds fantastic, so traditional and how holidays should be celebrated I think. Påskeferie sounds great, just what every place should have on the holidays. I don’t see the need to have shops and big stores open when people should be at home celebrating with their loved ones. It was lovely to read about the traditions in Denmark, thanks for sharing with us.
I love reading about traditions in other countries! The photo of the eggs is just great. My Mother is from Germany and I remember visiting my grandmother and going to “country houses”. They were tiny shacks with a small garden site. They were beautiful though and I loved vitiating them. Thanks for the memories.
I think this time of second home is quite common in this part of the world. But I come from Connecticut, so when I hear “summerhouse” think “Hamptons, Nantucket, or Martha’s Vineyard” ;-)
Christy Hoover says
It’s amazing the things you miss when you are no longer home. Things you never even think to miss. One thing I miss most about home is the sausage and seafood. Tastes like no other. The Reese’s PB cups are every bit of delicious as they have always been. Hopefully someone will send you a bag ;-)
Food is such a powerful thing when it comes to memories and feeling at home. Ask an expat what they miss most about home and one of the things is almost guaranteed to be some sort of food.
This is so educational, this article really captures the Danish Easter culture and gives good visuals. And by the way, I’ll put up with bad candy for 6 weeks paid vacation any day…that’s an amazing perk, we are too overworked in the states.
I’m in no hurry to move back to the land of overtime and 2 weeks vacation, and I’m a stone’s throw from countries that make really great chocolate ; -)
Lauren Paints says
I had no idea that the year runs from May to May in Denmark, I feel so naive about not knowing that! It sounds like Easter is pretty amazing in Denmark. I’d love to try that Easter beer you mentioned and while you think the licorice tastes plain, I’d also love to try that as well! Looks like I’ll have to hop on over to Denmark at some point… :) LOL. Thanks for getting my “wanderlust” going again!
Danish Easter is one of the things I’ll miss most when I leave. They have Christmas beer, too… released on the same day each year and it’s a big event. Oh, and Danes take their licorice very seriously… licorice ketchup, licorice cheese, licorice ice cream. It’s everywhere!
Olivia Schwab says
It sounds like you had a great Easter weekend! I loved learning more about the traditions that you have for Easter in Denmark! I had no idea that there were different traditions and thank you for teaching them to me. I for sure would be one of those who doesn’t prepare for the long weekend and would panic to figure out where to get food on that Saturday haha. Great post!