Easter is one of the longest holidays in Denmark. As in the Catholic countries, the Lutheran Church (Folkekirke – “people´s church” – the Danish state-church) celebrates the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ. Because it follows the cycle of the moon, the celebration of Easter does not have a fixed date and it can fall between the second half of March and the first half of April.
Palm Sunday (Palmesøndag) – it is the Sunday before Easter, and it celebrates the day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem and its inhabitants laid down small branches of trees in front of him. In churches, it is celebrated with the distribution of palm trees or native small branches.
Maundy Thursday (Skærtorsdag) – it is the Thursday before Easter, and it marks the day when Jesus had his last meal with his disciples. The bread and wine they ate and drank became symbols for Jesus´ body and blood, and they are remembered at the communion during a mass.
Good Friday (Langfredag) – it is the Friday before Easter, and it honours the day when Jesus was crucified at Golgatha (a place outside Jerusalem, used by the Romans to execute insurrectionists and criminals).
Easter (Påskedag) – it is the third day after Jesus´ death and it marks his resurrection, when he appeared again. Families gather in a festive lunch, where they traditionally eat fish, lamb, other kinds of meat and cheese. The meal is accompanied with special beers and snaps (an alcoholic drink). Tables are decorated with daffodils (påskelilje), colored eggs (påskeæg) and lamb dolls (påskelam).
Easter Monday (Anden Påskedag) – this day does not mean anything in itself. It is just an extention of the big celebration of Easter.
Gækkebrev – it is a Danish tradition. Around Valentine´s Day people start sending teasing letters without signing them. Instead, the letter holds a number of dots that corresponds with the number of letters of the sender´s name. If the one receiving the letter guesses who has sent it, he or she will get an Easter chocolate egg. But if the receiver does not guess who has sent it, then he or she gives an Easter egg to the sender.
In Denmark, shops are closed on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter and Easter Monday. Some supermarkets might be open on Easter though. Schools are closed during the whole holiday.
A heathen tradition
Before the celebration of the resurrection of Christ, Easter was celebrated to announce spring.
Easter happens near the beginning of Spring in the northern countries, a time when the light and the leaves start to return after the long, dark, and cold months of winter. The ancient Saxons celebrated the return of spring with a festival where they commemorated their goddess of spring through their symbols of fertility: rabbits and eggs.
The word Easter comes from Ôstarâ (old German) or Ēostre (old English) or Esther (English), which is the name of the Germanic goddess that personified the dawn, and was associated with spring and fertility. In some Anglo-Saxon and German dialects, the month of April was called after the goddess, because that was when the spring festivities took place. When Anglo-Saxons were converted into Christianity, the celebration of the resurrection of Christ replaced the pagan festival, but kept its heathen symbols.
To read more about heathen traditions, check:
Ship models in Danish churches
Christmas in Denmark
Valentine´s Day in Denmark