Birthdays in Denmark

Posted on 31. Jul, 2014 by in Traditions


Thomas Angermann at Flickr. (Modified according to the Creative Commons License.)

Thomas Angermann at Flickr. (Modified according to the Creative Commons License.)

Tillykke med fødselsdagen! (Happy birthday!) Since July is crowded with birthdays in my family, I thought it would be nice ending the month with some facts about fødselsdagsfejring (birthday celebration) in Denmark.

Danes are the most birthday-obsessed people I’ve come across yet. For many børn (children) their fødselsdag is just as important as jul (Christmas), if not more so. In Christmas, after all, you have to share the pool of gifts with your søskende (siblings) and forældre (parents). A fødselsdagsbarn (”birthday child”), on the other hand,  gets all the gaver (gifts) for himself.

Being a ”birthday child” isn’t just for children, though. Far og mor (mum and dad) have to get gifts on their birthdays too, and so it goes on the entire life – even though some have invented the word fødselar [foselARE] for the more mature celebrants. Especially important are the runde fødselsdage (”round birthdays”): 25, 30, 40, 50, 75 etc.

Even shops and institutions celebrate their birthdays in Denmark; it isn’t uncommon to come across a supermarket that’s full of red and white Dannebrog (the Danish flag) because de fejrer (they’re celebrating) their 25 år, for example.

Besides gaver, flag and gæster (guests), another important ingredient in a fødselsdagsfest (birthday party) is kager (cakes). Some parents bager (bake) a kagemand (”cake man”) to their little child. As the name says, it’s a cake shaped like a mand (man) – or a kvinde (woman). Kagemanden is decorated with glasur (icing), slik (candy, sweets) like chokoladeknapper (”chocolate buttons” like m’n’ms), and tiny lys (candles).

For older kids and adults, all kinds of cakes or boller (buns) can be used as fødselsdagskage (birthday cake). The most common one, however, is the classical Danish lagkage [LAOWkay] (layer cake) with flødeskum (whipped cream). Lagkagen is also lit with tiny lagkagelys (”layer cake candles”). There’s usually one candle for hvert år (each year [in the life of the celebrant]). The fødselsdagsbarn/fødselar is now expected to blæse alle lysene ud på én gang (blow out all the candles at once). If there are any candles still aflame afterwards, they’re often said to represent something, like for instance how many kærester (girlfriends/boyfriends) the child is going to have.

An indispensable part of a proper Danish fødselsdag is singing fødselsdagssangen (the birthday song). There are a couple of different songs to choose from; the one that’s most widely sung starts like this:

I dag er det Oles fødselsdag, 

hurra hurra hurra

Han sikkert sig en gave får,

som han har ønsket sig i år

og dejlig chokolade med kager til.


Today it’s Ole’s birthday

hooray hooray hooray

He’ll surely get (himself) a gift

that he’s been wishing this year,

and delicious hot chocolate with cakes.


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Danish Lessons with Mick Jagger

Posted on 27. Jul, 2014 by in Culture, Music

IMG_1944Mennesker i alle afskygninger. Telte og lejre/camps. En stor, blå himmel. Orange Scene. Øl og rytmer. Kærlighed. Venskab. Skænderier. Nætter uden søvn. Sved og gammelt tøj. Nøgenløb. Støv. Urin. Fællesskab. Latter. Solbriller. Armbånd. Masser af musik. (People of every shade/kind. Tents and camps. A big, blue sky. The Orange Stage. Beer and rhythms. Love. Friendship. Quarrels. Nights without sleep. Sweat and old clothes. Naked run. Dust. Urine. Togetherness. Laughter. Sun glasses. Wristbands. Lots of music.)

People never leave Roskilde Festival unchanged. Having promised myself on four previous occasions that this would be my last year among euphoric music fans streaming with sweat, I finally couldn’t resist the names on this year’s Festival poster: Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder. I joined my team of frivillige (volunteers) of the previous years – a multilingual group headed by members of the Danish Youth Organisation for the language Esperanto. This year we were going to be in a bod (booth) selling mad (food) to festivalgæster (festival guests). Roskilde Festival is run entirely by volunteers, so my shifts in the booth earned me an entrance billet [biLET] (ticket).

Roskilde Festival is HUGE (the biggest of its kind in Northern Europe). In the days of the main concerts, which were also the days of my stay, July 3rd to 6th, more than 100,000 visitors were enjoying themselves in front of the 7 festival stages or in the camp areas (enormous plains of grass and mud). If you feel like going for a swim – or don’t feel like standing i kø (in the line) for et koldt brusebad (a cold shower) – there is a lake. If you want to eat or relax or play games with friends, there are restaurants, cafés, art exhibitions, gamerooms, anything. If you haven’t got money to pay for your vegetarian burger, you can collect plastic cups from the concert areas and get pant (refund money). Roskilde is a place that’s bursting with creativity and new ways of doing things; for instance, this year they were trying to make energy out of fry dripping.

A place of creativity…

A place bursting with creativity…

Roskilde might not be the best place to learn Danish – after all, a majority of the bands, including the Danish ones, sing in English, and a lot of the informations are given in English. However, Roskilde is an excellent place to get to know Danes! The festival is also a very important ”ritual” in the lives of many Danes, and an invigorating melting pot for Danish culture, music or otherwise.

Most of the concerts I had a chance to attend were great. Okay, there even was a bit of fun for students of Danish:

Sangeren MØ.jpg

“Sangeren MØ” by Kim Matthäi Leland – Eget arbejde. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

is an energetic lady who may be on her way to become the Danish ”Björk”. sings in English, but her name is proudly Danish and means ”maiden”.

– All the foreign artists say Ros-KIL-deh, even though the correct pronunciation of the name is ROSkilleh.

– Mick Jagger may have been browsing Transparent Language’s Danish pages. He paused a lot of times during the Rolling Stones concert to drop a line of Danish to the cheering publikum (public, crowd, spectators). Things like

Hvordan går det, Roskilde? (How is it going, Roskilde?)

God nat! (Good night!)


Now, get back to those studies. You’ve got a year to fine-tune your dansk for the next Roskilde Festival.

A love letter to the Danish sky

Posted on 30. Jun, 2014 by in Nature, Tourism

Everybody knows that Denmark is not Copacabana. Does such a sad thing as the Danish himmel, where all that cold regn [rhyne] (rain) originates, really deserve a kærlighedsbrev (love-letter)? Well, take a look at the classical oil paintings of Skagensmalerne (the Skagen painters). P.S. Krøyer, Mickael Ancher, Anna Ancher and the others – they were all enchanted by the infinite lyseblå (bright blue) of the sky, mirrored in the ocean on both sides of the Skagen peninsula (the northernmost “branch” of Jutland). Even with skyer (clouds) they found it so smuk (beautiful) that they left their original homes and settled down in Skagen to capture lyset (the light).

Carl locher skagen september 1913

“Skagen september 1913″ by Carl Locher

If you fancy a selfie in front of the “bright Nordic skies”, though, there are other options than Skagen. After all, Denmark is a flat country, where one half is made of veje (roads), marker (fields), øer (islands) and vand (water). The other half is made of clouds and solnedgange (sunsets).

People coming from bjergrige lande (mountainous countries) are often surprised by the wide horizons in Denmark. There is so much sky that the country virker større end det faktisk er (seems bigger than it actually is). It does take some time, however, to appreciate. If you live in a
wild country with a lot of amazing landscapes, Denmark most probably will seem a bit kedelig (boring) at first. Skønheden (the beauty) is in the details. Walk slowly, and the sky will open!

Okay, most Danes har benene solidt plantet på jorden (“have their legs solidly grown i the earth” = are down-to-earth-ish), and spend more time looking at screens and each other than looking up. But we also love talking about vejret [vare-eth] (the weather) and how bad or cold or lovely it is. If you’ve ever felt the gentle sun on a Danish beach, or driven through idyllic-but-monotonous villages of røde murstenshuse (red brick houses), or bopped along to the groove among the people on the huge plains of the Roskilde music festival, you’ll see why people still refer to the legend that claims the Danish flag fell from the sky…