Danish traditions: International Workers’ Day and Denmark’s Liberation

by Katrine Vahlberg

Two important days for Denmark are coming up in the beginning of May, relatively close to each other – International Workers Day and the anniversary for Denmark’s Liberation.

The two days each have their traditions and each their impacts on our everyday life.

While both are commemorative of good things, the traditions around the occasions are rather different.

International Workers’ Day

On the first of May it is International Workers’ Day, known in Denmark as ‘Arbejdernes internationale kampdag’.

The day got its beginnings back in the 1800’s in Australia when workers went to the streets and demanded 8-hour workdays.

While this wasn’t on May 1st, they did kickstart the tradition of holding a yearly day to celebrate the workers’ improved conditions.

It was a few years after as other parts of the world joined in on this right, that the date was officially placed on May 1st internationally.

Here, the first ‘Arbejdernes internationale kampdag’ was held in 1890, and even though the employers didn’t allow them, Danish workers showed up to support and fight for their rights.

Since then, the day has been marked with demonstrations, political speeches and songs every year.

Even those who do not join the demonstrations, might be able to take half the day off from work.

Whether it’s at the office, the construction site, the school or daycare, many employees in Denmark are off work at noon on May 1st. This is in agreement with your employer but widely practiced.

Denmark’s Liberation

On May 5th in 1945, the Germans surrendered after the years of horror in World War II.

This meant that Denmark was freed from the German occupation that had shrouded the country since 1940. Or at least mostly.

The citizens of Bornholm however had to wait until April 5th 1946 before the Soviet Union, which had invaded the island to stop the Germans, finally released Bornholm from their occupation.

While Bornholm was exempt for a year, May 5th became the day Danes celebrate the liberation.

The news themselves were transmitted through radio on the evening of May 4th 1945, and people took to the streets with flags and celebration, despite the ‘win’ not being official until the morning after.

This also meant that the blackout curtains that had been legally required under the occupation, were finally taken down and lights shone out on the streets at night again.

On the evening of May 4th, several Danes still hold this tradition by setting lights in their windows. The lights have become a symbol of Danish liberation and even 79 years after Danes keep this tradition alive.

So if you’re wondering why there are more lights than usual in the windows, or why the park is filled with people holding speeches, here’s the answer.

In extension of these days, there are events popping up all over Aalborg and North Denmark.

If you want to get a quick overview, check out International House North Denmark’s facebook and instagram or their website for a post of upcoming events in May.

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