Liam – February 12, 2018
The Danes do Valentine’s Day right. It’s not taken so seriously that men who, as a way to cover their forgetful tracks, gift their sweetie with a box of gas station candies (likely left over from last year’s display) are forced to sleep on the couch. They are fortunate enough to not have to suffer through those wonderfully awkward Vermont Teddy Bear commercials either. At least I hope they don’t have Valentine’s Day Vermont Teddy Bear commercials in Denmark; they don’t represent American ingenuity very well.
In Denmark, Valentine’s Day just isn’t that big of a deal. In fact, the Valentine’s Day we know and, um, love didn’t even find its place there until the 1990s. The hearts and chocolates and all that have only been customary for little more than 20 years. Mostly, Danes celebrate the day by admirers sending the one they love or for whom they long spring flowers called snowdrops and gaekkebrev. These are pieces of paper that have had holes cut from them to create a design – much like the snowflakes you made in elementary school. Gaekkebrev loosely translates to “joke letter.” The joke is in the way the sender signs his or her name. It’s done in dots, one for each letter of the name. If the recipient can solve who the sender is, the sender owes them Easter candy about two months later. If they are unable to guess who sent the gaekkebrev, the recipient owes the sender an Easter treat.
This game of guessing and the gaekkebrev tradition dates back to the 18th century and was specifically for Easter. Moving it up a bit to coincide with Valentine’s Day began when the love holiday arrived in Denmark 20-something years ago. This, of course, makes it harder to find snowdrops to send with the lover’s card, as the Danes call it, so in most cases, a box of chocolates suffices.
Because Valentine’s Day in Denmark is far more relaxed than it is here in the States, I imagine it to actually be enjoyable. If writing joke poems was encouraged here, I would have saved myself a lot a of embarrassing Valentine’s Days.
This February 14, The Danish Home of Chicago is hosting a Valentine’s Day party with a chocolate fountain. If you attend, plan on bringing your own gaekkebrev. See if anyone can guess your name. Depending on how it goes, come Easter, you’ll either be owed a lot of candy or have to deliver your own goodies. Either way, it seems like a wonderful way of saying “I love you.”
At the very least, it’s a whole lot better than this from those teddy bears in Vermont. Yikes.