I remember when I first moved to Denmark and was delightfully surprised at the amount of holidays there were. It was springtime and I had just begun my job and all of a sudden, I had a day off in the middle of the week in the span of what felt like every other week. Eventually, I learned this was something unique to the springtime, but nevertheless was curious about the interesting traditions that fell on these uniquely Danish holidays.
On Store Bededag in early May, it is the Great Prayer Day. While there aren't many notable traditions on this day, apart from maybe buying varme hveder (warm buns) and going out the night before in honour of the 1659 assault on Copenhagen, it's still recognized as a day off nationwide. Ascension Day, or by it's better name, Kristi Himmelfartsdag, is another religious holiday, as it falls 40 days after Christ's resurrection. Not much is done on this day, but it's got a name I remember and it's a day off, so it's great.
But my personal favourite holiday falls on the 23rd of June. I think if I'm completely honest, I enjoy this holiday so much because it's the night before my birthday. My birthday also happens to be on Saint John the Baptist Day, following the events of this Danish holiday, Sankt Hans Aften. Another side to this holiday sells it as a celebration of the summer solstice. The most notable tradition of the evening involves a straw stack and a witch effigy at the top, which is then set on fire as the sun is going down in the late summer night. The burning of the witch. To some, a way to ward off the evil spirits, but to others a way to remember those that were burned at the stake during the witch trials of the 16th and 17th century. It's a bit of an eerie tradition but it's mesmerizing to watch the flames in one of the several scenic locations around the city.
Then of course, there are the more globally recognized holidays, like Christmas, Easter, and in North America, Thanksgiving. They also carry religious or historic significance, but have seemingly transitioned into more commercial celebrations. Thanksgiving is meant to be stuffed silly, and wouldn't be acceptable without a turkey and my sister's cheesecake. I've spoken of my Christmas traditions before, a huge feast with the family on Christmas Eve, midnight mass, presents and a family slumber party, but Easter is a little bit different. My favourite Easter holiday tradition takes place on the Saturday of the weekend, where we decorate a basket and put bits of food that are intended to be eaten on the next morning for Easter brunch. We then take the basket to church to be blessed. This has always been my favourite part of Easter ever since I was a little girl, even with the knowledge of having an egg hunt the next morning.
There are some traditions coming with the holidays that are personal. They vary from family to family. And then there are others that carry a symbolic historic reference. Often they're such old traditions that people do them without really understanding why it's done. But I think what ties traditions together the most, is family. One thing that almost everyone can say is that holidays are an excuse to have the company of your whole family. Oh, and you also eat good food, and lots of it. Never forget that.