What are these strange buns I have been seeing in supermarkets lately?
The Great Prayer Day or General Prayer Day, called Store Bededag in Danish, will take place on Friday, April 27th. This special Danish holiday is celebrated on the fourth Friday after Easter Sunday, and is basically a collection of several minor celebrations of Christian saints in the Spring, built into a single day. One of the most traditional food of this holiday are the ’varme hveder’ – hot wheat buns. Now you are wondering why would buns in any way be connected to a Christian holiday… Let’s dig into it!
The holiday is unique because it can be traced back to a single man, Hans Bagger, the bishop of Roskilde in the late seventeenth century. Bagger had introduced three new pray and fasting days, by his second night as a bishop, and as the calendar had no shortage of similar holidays, it became clear that the extra days introduced were having a negative impact on daily life and productivity.
To solve this, the current ruler, King Christian V. decided to combine all of the smaller praying and fasting days with one of the three new days introduced by the bishop, Hans Bagger, and thus giving a birth to The Great Prayer Day, or as it was called at that time, “Extraordinary General Prayer Day”. Few centuries later we dropped „Extraordinary” because it was really an overkill.
The holy day was announced and started the day before, at 6pm with temple bells. From this time forth the fasting started, work was no longer allowed and neither gambling, drinking and other earthly vanities. This was to ensure that on the next day citizens will arrive to the mandatory religious activities on time and sober.
Since there was already a prohibition of work from the previous evening, to get around this, bakers came up with the idea of doing some extra baking on Thursday, making a lot of hveder – or wheat buns – in advance. These buns could then be heated up and eaten the following day. As the idea spread through the whole country, the eating of varme hveder – hot wheat buns on the night before Store Bededag became a tradition.
Traditions on Store Bededag
While it is of course no longer absolutely prohibited to work on The Great Prayer Day (Store Bededag) and neither are the religious activities obligatory, supermarkets still bake and sell a lot of hveder during the week before the holiday, following the centuries old tradition, which food is usually consumed on the night before.
In the past, citizens of Copenhagen usually walked the streets to hear the bells ringing. Ever since then it has been a tradition to go for a walk on Langelinie, on the ramparts around Christianshavn and Kastellet (the Citadel), which custom is connected to 1747 when Copenhagen Cathedral ‘Vor Frue Kirke’, The Church of Our Lady, had a new carillon.
Apart from the buns, walk and day off work, The Great Prayer Day (Store Bededag) has no general traditions, however remain an important day for church confirmations, and thus for religious people.
As it is a public holiday, keep in mind that most shops will be closed during The Great Prayer Day, and calculate with the holiday schedule of the public transportation. Enjoy the day off work (if you are lucky enough to have the day free) and now knowing what the white buns are for, have a hveder fresh from the oven.
Happy Great Prayer Day all!