The phone rang for a while before a cheerful voice picked up on the other end.
“Sorry, I was just making a cake,” Gudrun Gilhuis-Glenthøj said, chuckling slightly.
Living in the Netherlands, there aren’t many traditions from her home country that the bubbly Dane can continue to participate in.
Baking pastries, however, is important in Danish culture as many of the traditional holidays are celebrated with different types of bread, pastries and other foods.
One such tradition is the baking and eating of varme hveder. These cardamom spiced wheat buns are what most traditions on Store Bededag (Great Prayer Day) revolve around.
As of 2024, however, those traditions will forever be changed as the Danish government announced they will cancel the holidays from next year onward to save money for the military. Stores and other businesses will have to stay open on this day, which will bring in money through taxes.
A long history
Great Prayer Day is celebrated on the 4th Friday after Easter and was invented in 1686 after king Christian V decided to gather multiple prayer days into one.
Because bakeries were not allowed to open on the holiday itself, the wheat buns would be made in big batches the day before, to be toasted and eaten on Store Bededag.
According to Kristina Krake, professor of Scandinavian studies at the University of Amsterdam, the holiday’s history as an accumulation of several holidays means that “the cancellation of this day has no religious impact” as the holiday “signifies no tradition in itself.”
Gudrun’s brother, Johannes Glenthøj, highlights a contrary perspective.
As a preacher at the Danish Lutheran Church (the Folkekirken), the Great Prayer Day represents a time of reflection for Johannes.
“That day means reflection on my life, on my sins and failures, repentance and a renewed prayer life,” he stated.
He explains how, traditionally, Store Bededag is also used for confirmations. This ritual is meant for teenage members of the church to confirm their baptism in the church.
The ritual is still very common in Denmark, as around 72% of the population are members of the national church.
“As a preacher I feel that people are robbed of a day off where traditionally many families around the country meet for family time, and for many this is the day of the confirmation of their sons and daughters,” said Johannes.
Due to their father’s role as a pastor in the Folkekirken, Gudrun and Johannes’ family couldn’t go on trips like many of the other Danish families do during this long weekend.
But Gudrun still fondly remembers eating the traditional cardamom buns.
“A lot of people would eat the bread on the night before, after baking it. But we still ate the little buns the following morning after my mother had made them,” she thoughtfully recalled.
With the cancellation of the holiday, religious leaders in Denmark are forced to come up with new ways to continue to celebrate the customary traditions.
For some, old traditions might even morph into a symbol of opposition to the government’s decision to cancel the Great Prayer Day.
“The tradition of ‘hveder’ will go on. Maybe, this tradition will even become more important for people as a sign of a stance against the decision to demolish the day as a day off,” Johannes predicted.
Although many Danes understand why the government might need a larger budget for defense, the cancelling of the holiday to obtain this budget has been heavily criticized.
Almost 478,000 people have signed the petition to get the government to drop their plans to abolish the holiday.
Professor Krake believes the government’s decision was not just a way for them to save money for the military.
“In my view the problem in this case is that the majority government pushed this bill through Parliament. They could have found other solutions. The government, however, showed its power,” she explains.
According to her, this show of power “is quite beneficial for future negotiations in Parliament.”
Lisbeth Borg, a Rosklide native, mainly takes issue with the government’s justification.
She explained that, to her, “the worst thing about this is the goal of the cancellation. It’s unreasonable that that money is going to be spend on defense.”
Even if the cancellation brings in as much money as predicted (around €400 million), there might be a unforeseen cost for Danish society: the alienation of the Danish Christian community.
As Johannes states: “I think that the relation between the parliament and the church has changed forever with this cancellation of the Great Prayer Day. The Folkekirken has lost its special role as a worthy partner for negotiations on issues relating to Christian feasts and customs.”