gækkebrev from 1914

April 24, 2014

When Margrethe Østergaard was just a young girl in Denmark she loved to participate in the Danish tradition of gækkebrev.  Like most, she looked forward to springtime and her family’s Danish Easter traditions, but most of all she looked forward to making the cute paper cut-outs, creating silly rhymes and leaving them for her siblings, parents and friends to find, hoping they wouldn’t guess that she was the author of the ‘teaser letters’.


Chicago late 1800sMargrethe eventually grew up, yet never quite lost the affinity for her favorite Danish traditions.   At the age of fifteen in 1854 a business opportunity for her father took Margrethe and her family across the Atlantic to the booming metropolis of Chicago.   A few years after their move a young, successful business partner of her father’s named George Olsen came courting.  A Dane himself living in Chicago, he had become quite fond of Margrethe, as many had.  They married in 1859.


gækkebrev2Through the years Margrethe became best known for her lighthearted spirit and kind and generous nature.  Even as an adult she still enjoyed leaving her husband and friends sweet ‘teaser letters’ around the Easter holiday.  She enjoyed teaching her children and other children in their Chicago neighborhood this tradition as well, even though in the late 1800’s a more commercialized version was making its way to corner store shelves.


Her life was dedicated to helping other people and many Danish organizations, including the Danish Orphanage Society and The Danish Children’s Home, among many others. Her compassion and selflessness made Margrethe a wonderful friend, and Emma Thorsen, Anna Mikkelsen were two of her closest.  Along with nine other women in their circle, this group of ladies would go on to conquer great things in the city of Chicago.


As a young wife to a very successful businessman, and coming from a family that had been very well off during her lifetime, Margrethe was able to contribute generously, and was thankful for being so fortunate.  Her mother and father had not come from money, so they instilled in her and her siblings some very significant values that allowed for Margrethe to be so humble, gracious and empathetic towards others.  She was very dedicated to fundraising for The Danish Old People’s Home, and many other organizations in Chicago in the late 1800’s, and her devotion and commitment lives on today.


More on this Danish Tradition:

Today, gækkebrev is also known as the Danish spring Valentine, or viz.  It is a fun tradition often done by children.  Gækkebrev originated in the 1600-1800’s and even Hans Christian Andersen was a big fan of these little paper creations!  Did you receive one of these teaser letters this year, or do you participate in this tradition? Leave a comment, I’d love to hear about it!


 And please visit some additions to our Pinterest page for a video on how to make  your very own gækkebrev!