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..? 😉
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!
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…
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 😉
Our DS14 (dear son, aged 14) is at the age where many young Danes get ‘confirmed’ and, if you saw Part One and Part Two, you’ll know that he’s been in a bit of a quandary. To be, or not to be (confirmed). That is the question!
Well, he’s been attending the confirmation prep classes (which, you will remember, are scheduled into the Danish school timetable) and has also been at church on Sundays. Now, to be honest, it’s not because he has a burning desire to get out of bed early on Sunday mornings. I men, let’s face it, teenagers have no burning desire to get out of bed at all on Sundays! 😛 No, he’s been going to church with his cronies because, in order to be confirmed, you also have to attend a church service at least 10 times during the prep classes. No cheating! “So how do you prove that?”, says I. “Well, Mum, I make sure to shake the minister’s hand at the end of the service.” “Ah,” says I, “but the kids could also just say that they’ve attended a service at another church in the area, and no-one would ever know?” “Hmm,” says DS14, “then you’d need some proof – like a photo of you inside the church or a copy of the Order of Service!” Ha, serious stuff! 😛
As I sent him off on his bike on Sunday morning, I handed him DKR 20 (about USD 3.30, UK£2.10) for the collection plate. And then I had a thought…what does the collection go to? They can’t be raising money for a new roof or radiators for the church (as sometimes is the case in Scotland) – because here in Denmark the church is funded by the state. DS14 told me that all monies collected must go to charity, the church isn’t allowed to ‘make money’. Good show!
But back to the quandary. To be, or not to be (confirmed). Well, DS14 wants to go ahead. Which means that we can also go ahead and tell family/close friends to keep the date free and book their ferries and flights. And start thinking about a venue, outfits, gifts, speeches and songs…phew, or should that be pew?!
Okay, back to my DS14 (Dear Son, aged 14) and his forthcoming “confirmation” preparation classes. Or, as they call it here, “at gå til præst” (“go to the priest”). And no, it has nothing to do with the very smelly, rather rude looking mushroom I showed you in Monday’s post! ;P “That smell? Must be the priest…
As I told you in Part one, confirmation preparation is scheduled into the school timetable. Not having any previous experience (we don’t have the same tradition in the Church of Scotland) I hadn’t realised that – duh – we actually had to sign him up for the preparation classes. Oops! Luckily, there wasn’t a problem with that. Just a simple case of filling out a form (available online from the local church’s website) and hot-footing it over to the parish office…
So far so good! Though, as we had feared, we didn’t really have any choice as to the actual date of the church service next spring (April/May 2015). Out of the four or five possible days, there was only one date still available. Take it or leave it! The church has to limit the number of “konfirmander” (kids being confirmed) to 20 for each service to avoid the ceremony dragging on and on and on. Not to mention the logistics of bums on seats bottoms on pews. But, hey, at least we now have an actual date! And can therefore tell family and our close friends to keep the date free. 🙂
So far so good! Though now that we’ve started to tell people the date, they naturally ask where the celebratory lunch/party is going to be held… At home? A tent in the backgarden? A local restaurant? Time for DDH (dear Danish Husband) and I to sit down and start some serious planning!
So far so good! Last weekend a letter came through the letterbox from the minister with lots of information and confirming the date of the church service. He (the minister happens to be a ‘he’ but happily we have plenty of female ministers in Denmark too) went on to explain that he would actually be leading not one but two services that day, in order to accommodate everyone. So would we prefer 10 am or 12 pm? Not sure what the most popular choice is. Perhaps 10am, so that you can sit down to an early lunch? Well, given that most of our family will be making the journey by car+ferry from Jutland (the other side of Denmark), we’ve asked for the late slot. Don’t want to run any risks and people singing, “Get me to the church on time!”
So far so good! Phew! And we can be thankful that it’s our boy being confirmed first. Have you seen the prices of confirmation dresses? Extortionate, even at half the price!
As you saw in my Monday post – Back to (the new) school (reform)! – my two little darlings are back at school and life has returned to normal. Or is this just the calm before the proverbial storm? We may be coming up for a turbulent six months. Should we be ringing round relatives? Looking at venues? Choosing outfits? Making wishlists?
Why? Well just look at this autumn’s school timetable for DS14 (Dear Son, aged 14)
Don’t see it? Look closely!
Yes, besides the usual suspects of French, Maths, Christianity, Modern Studies, etc, etc, etc, there’s a new kid on the block. “Præst” (Priest). Tuesdays and Thursday afternoons from 2 til 2.50pm. The official name is “konfirmationsforberedelsen” (confirmation preparation). Our DS14 has just started 8th grade and is therefore coming up to the first (should he choose to accept it) ‘milestone’ in his life. Confirmation. To be, or not to be (confirmed). That is the question!
My DDSIL (Dear-Danish-Sister-in-Law) was already on the phone to us last year, asking if she and DDBIL should keep any weekends in April or May 2014 free for a possible confirmation celebration. Say what? Well, in Jutland, children are confirmed in the 7th grade. So she was just phoning to be on the safe side. Anyway, here in Copenhagen, it’s 8th grade. So the time is, um, almost now. Yikes! Time to find a party venue!
Now, here’s something which floored me… “Confirmation preparation” is part of the Danish school timetable. Imagine that! In a country where I have yet to meet someone who is a churchgoer! 😛 But even though it’s factored in to the school day, participation at the classes is entirely voluntary. As well as church rituals and some Bible study, the preparation classes delve into life’s big questions. Birth, death, love, sex, education, friendships, work/life balance, marriage…
DS14 is undecided about the whole Danish rite of passage. On the one hand, there is the lure of a party in his honour, with songs and speeches by friends and family. (Very similar to a Danish wedding!) Not to mention the even more alluring prospect of gifts and lots of cool cash. Remember my post When Blue Monday isn’t New Order? In 2011 the average amount of gifts raked in by ‘konfirmander’ was a staggering 17,000 kroner (US $3,200 or GB £1,980). Give us the money! 😉
On the other hand, DS14 is very scientific (well, yes, he’s in a special Biotech class, for Pete’s sake!) and swears by The Big Bang. (The theory and the television series.) So feels it would be wrong to be confirmed in church as he doesn’t “believe” in God. As parents, we’ve told him that the decision is entirely up to him. DDH (Dear Danish Husband) was confirmed when he was a lad but today is an atheist. I’m not confirmed (we don’t have the equivalent in the Church of Scotland) and know nothing about the Bible, but I do believe that there is a God. Of some kind.
Funnily enough, I bumped into our old parish priest (she christened our DD12 when DD was a babe in arms) down at the sea the other week . The priest (or, minister, as we say in Scotland) asked how the kids were getting on and I mentioned DS14’s dilemma. She said, “Tell him not to take it so seriously!” She thought that it was a real shame that so much pressure put on the kids to “believe” or “measure their faith” and she herself encouraged them to relax and enjoy the tradition. Who doesn’t love a party? Besides – as the Danes are always quick to point out – confirmation is not in fact the child saying “Yes” to God. It’s God saying “Yes” to the child! 😉
But back to DS14. To be, or not to be (confirmed)? Well, for the moment, he’s decided to “gå til præst” and take part in the classes. And make a reasoned decision (complete with venn diagrams?) later.
Watch this space! There might be more between heaven and earth…