Easter is a special time in Denmark. The holiday’s place on the calendar means it often coincides with the beginning of spring – an event Danes respond to by emerging from hibernation after the downright depressing Nordic winter. Much like a Danish Christmas, Easter in Denmark includes three days off of work and a plethora of traditions, such as spending the holiday at the family summer house (sommerhus). According to one Danish news website in English:
“Many Danes have a second home by the sea or at least away from home but within a driving distance. If you are invited to spend time at a summer house, take it as a compliment. This is a very private place for most Danes.”
This past Easter, I was very lucky to be invited to join Karsten and Britt Søndergaard and their two daughters Anna and Louise at their summer house. As friends of my Danish host parents Lydia and Jesper, I first met Karsten and Britt at a dinner party in 2012, and again at their flat in Copenhagen for a dinner party they hosted this past year between Christmas and New Year’s. Karsten currently works for the Danish Maritime Authority after several years sailing large container ships around the world; Britt works for the municipality of Copenhagen; and Anna and Louise and are both in school, with Anna getting ready to go to a university-level business academy.
On Friday, April 3rd, I jumped a train to Frederikshavn, a few hours north of Århus. Karsten and Britt were waiting at the train station for me, and we drove further north to their summer house, which is located in Skagen – the northern most part of Denmark – which I had visited on a university-organized trip back in the fall. The light in Skagen is very unique – partly because the area receives more sun than the rest of Denmark – and has long been home to artists, craftspeople, sailors, fishermen, and vacationing Danes. Luckily, we had an abundance of sunlight over the Easter weekend, so I could see and feel why Skagen is such a special place for the Danes.
The Søndergaard summer house is nestled among a cluster of trees and other similarly-sized summer houses, less than a kilometer from the sea:
Here’s the inside of the house:
When we pulled up to the house, Louise was on her swing in the backyard:
Louise loves her swing – each day I was there, she would spend hours and hours swinging and listening to music. In fact, Louise spends so much time on her swing that Karsten has to regularly replace the swing’s supportive metal hooks because the rope wears them down:
Louise’s swing is also home to several bird feeders. Every morning at breakfast, we would look out the windows and try to guess which birds were congregating on the swing’s feeders. Karsten and Britt have collected a few bird-spotting birds over the years and have gotten quite good at identifying different types of birds.
That afternoon, we enjoyed some coffee and cake on the porch:
Later, we went for a hike down to the beach:
and back up to the Råbjerg Mile, a migrating coastal sand dune only a few hundred meters across the street from the summer house. The largest of its kind in Northern Europe, the horseshoe-shaped dune covers roughly half a square mile and reaches heights of 130 feet above sea level. The small lake surrounded by the dunes was filled with water that was a shade of blue I’d never seen before – maybe because it reflects the blue of the sky:
At some points, the dune is Sahara-like, and you feel as if you’re not in Denmark any more:
Later that evening, Karsten took his telescope outside. We couldn’t see much, however, because of a full moon – easily the brightest full moon I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t believe how clearly I could see shadows in the middle of the night. I guess even the moonlight is special in Skagen.
The next day, we ventured into the town of Skagen. Our first stop was Munch’s, supposedly the best butchery in Denmark. After an hour wait, we finally secured some of the shop’s coveted sausages:
Next we strolled through town and down to the harbor. Notice the bright yellow color of the buildings – this color is synonymous with Skagen:
That afternoon, we went to the top of nearby lighthouse for a view over Skagen. Karsten pointed out the many big container ships anchored off the coast. He said that ships traveling through Route Tango – the waterway between Denmark and Sweden which connects the Baltic Sea to the North Sea and ultimately the Atlantic – often stop off the coast of Skagen while they wait for their next assignment because of the natural protection from storms the location offers.
Later that evening, we walked down to the beach to watch a magnificent sunset:
When the sun was almost below the horizon, Karsten recounted how, as a kid, he would run to the top of the sand dunes in order to catch a glimpse of a “second sunset” in the same evening. As soon as he told me this, I spirited to the top of the nearest sand dune:
After a late dinner, we watched one of Anna’s favorite shows, Midsummer Murders, a British crime series which has been shown on Denmark’s public television channel every Saturday night for years. In Denmark, movies and television shows are played in their original language (usually English) with Danish subtitles, so I was able to watch and understand. I suspect this helps explain why the Danes have been ranked the best non-native English speakers in the world.
The next morning, Anna and Louise were busy searching the yard for Easter eggs filled with chocolate which Karsten and Britt had hid early in the morning. Like many other places in the world, the egg is an important symbol of Easter in Denmark, representing new life and a new beginning. After all the eggs had been discovered, Karsten and Britt began preparing Påskefrokost, or Easter lunch. Similar to the Julefrokost or Christmas lunch, there is a seemingly endless amount of different types of food and drinks during a Påskefrokost. Staples include herring (sometimes pickled, sometimes curried, sometimes in a tomato sauce, just to name a few variations) served on rugbrød (a hearty, filling, grainy rye-bread you can only find in Denmark and which Danes always miss when they go abroad) and snaps, or akvavit as the Danes call it – a high-in-alcohol flavored spirit. The whole thing is so hygge!
That afternoon, Karsten, Britt and I went hiking to a church that has been covered by sand, as well as to a lookout point in a nearby forest:
For dinner, Karsten prepared the Munch sausages we bought the day before in Skagen, and they turned out to be well worth the hour-long wait. After dinner, we gathered around the television to watch the classic comedy Monty Python and the Holy Grail (I was once told that a good introduction to Danish humor is Monty Python, and based on the laughter in the room, I have to agree).
The next morning, we cleaned the house and piled into the car for the trip home. Anna and Louise were nice enough to share the back seat with me until we got to Århus, where I was dropped off right outside my flat before the Søndergaards continued the rest of the way back to Copenhagen. I am so thankful for Karsten, Britt, Anna and Louise’s invitation to join them at their summer house to experience a Danish Easter in Skagen. They were gracious and generous hosts and did not allow me to pay for anything during my visit. I look forward to returning the favor somehow, someway, someday 🙂