Are you ready for the Great Prayer Day?

The first of a range of long weekends after Easter, Danes love their Great Prayer Day, Store Bededag. This bank holiday is unique to Denmark and popular for short trips to neighbouring countries.

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By Bente D. Knudsen

Its date varies each year, as a royal decree back in 1686 set it to always be on the fourth Friday after Easter Sunday. This year it comes late on 16 May.

Even if you have only been living in Denmark for a short time, you will have noticed that Danes are not widely religious, even if almost 76 percent are still member of the Danish protestant church, the Folkekirke.

However, back in the 17th century, Store Bededag was a day for praying and fasting, and certainly not for working.

It is not linked to any Christian holiday, such as is for instance Easter or Pentecost (Whit Sunday in the UK), but was established by Hans Bagger, who as bishop of Zealand called the day for the “Extraordinary Normal Praying Day”.

On this day, even bakers were not allowed to work, which is why they baked large wheat buns the day before so Danes would have bread to heat and eat on the day itself.

Contrary to the 17th century Danes, these days, Danes do not do much praying or fasting on this day.

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The tradition for eating the wheat buns, also called Hveder or Hvedeknopper has remained – even if the established practice (and no one seems to know why) is to eat them in the evening the day before.

A bank holiday gladly used for a long weekend to nearby Germany or Sweden, who do not have this tradition and where all shops remain open, it has also become one of the most popular dates for the church confirmation.

The confirmation is a special church service in which a person confirms the promises that were made when they were baptised.

If you were baptised at a christening when you were a child, your parents and godparents made these promises on your behalf.

As a young adult it is traditional to affirm these promises at a confirmation service, and in Denmark this usually takes place during the 7th or 8th grade at the age of 14/15.

It has become an important festive celebration of the passing from child to young adult, and more a family tradition, than an important religious ceremony for those participating.

For this reason Danish youngsters are always confirmed at a special church service, which very often takes place on a bank holiday such as Store Bededag, allowing for some heavy celebrations afterwards either for lunch or for dinner.

If you pass a church on this day, you may catch a glimpse of unusually well-dressed Danish youngsters and their families.

For instance in the parish of Solrød, confirmations always take place on  the Saturday following Store Bededag, Kristi Himmelfartsdag ( Ascension Day) and the Saturday following Kristi Himmelfartsdag.

In some families the size of the parties and the gifts given are quite awesome.