Ella – March 26, 2018
Decorating is one of my favorite ways to get everyone excited about the upcoming holidays. I love pulling out the storage bin filled with memories and moments from last year or decades-old items passed down through the generations. One of my favorite items tucked away among our Easter decor is a piece of paper. It has a few hearts and diamonds cut out of it and some dots that represent a code for my cousin’s name.
We used to gather as a family to celebrate Easter and each year created these secret notes. If the recipient could guess who wrote the note – each dot representing a letter in their name – the note writer would get a chocolate egg. I thought this was a fun activity that just my family created to keep the kids busy.
But as I’ve been delving deeper into my heritage, I’ve discovered that this is actually a Danish Easter tradition for children called gaekkebrev, as shown in the photo above. One of my fellow descendants of a Danish Home founder, Liam, recently wrote about gaekkebrev as a Valentine’s Day tradition in Denmark. Cut out much like a paper snowflake, gaekkebrev often include a rhyming riddle and may also have a snowdrop enclosed, one of the first flowers to emerge after winter.
I’ve been told that Easter is a big deal in Denmark. Much like citizens of Chicago, Danes are ready to say goodbye to winter and hello to a warmer season, and some take the opportunity to open up their summer homes by the sea.
In both countries, Easter is associated with Christian culture and the crucifixion of Christ and celebration of His resurrection. And the secular Easter Bunny is also a big part of popular culture in both the U.S. and Denmark.
According to The Local, a Danish newspaper, Denmark typically recognizes Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday as holidays or, literally, “holy days,” so many Danes take additional time off – maybe a week or two. This extended vacation time makes for high festivity around the Easter season in Denmark, with the religious elements largely secondary.
While traditional American Easter dinner consists or ham or lamb, Danish tables feature the paskefrokost, an Easter lunch. This feast involves large gatherings of family and friends and lasts most of the day, mixing lunch and dinner. Foods include such delicacies as a fish platter with salmon, herring and breaded plaice, a meat plate of roast-beef style lamb and flæskestege with crunchy rinds, and baskets of thick rye bread spread with butter. A favorite beer choice is Nørrebro Bryghus, the Danish equivalent of India Pale Ale.
This week, I will look for some recipes featuring different ways to prepare boiled eggs to add to our traditional American Easter dinner and stock up on chocolate eggs. I am excited to introduce the children in our family to the gaekkebrev, with hopes that it will continue to be passed along throughout the generations.
I am also planning to attend Easter worship at The Danish Home this Saturday and visit with residents after they’ve had their sumptuous Easter meal prepared by their very talented chef, Roger Sukhu, who was recently featured in the Chicago Tribune. Maybe next year, I can get him to come to my house!