Couple enjoying "hygge" and coffee in garden house on Amager in Denmark

Spring in the Northern Hemisphere is officially from March 21 until June 21 or 22. I have been waiting to photograph spring’s arrival in Denmark since the beginning of April. I have been especially attentive each weekend, checking meteorological maps over Zealand, and driving in the direction of any possible sunshine. One batch of photos was grayer, wetter, and muddier than the next. I discovered that nothing is less appealing than a photograph of a naked birch tree forest in the rain before the leaves open up.

Children playing at Fuglebjerggaard in Helsinge, Denmark

The Danes have a word that represents their way of life: it is “hygge.” The word is best translated as “coziness.” It is a noun and it is something that you create with tea candles, fresh flowers, baked goods, and coffee. It is also a defense against the very long gray winters and strings of dreary rainy days without sunshine. Throughout the winter months the sky is low on the horizon, like a lid on the landscape. When spring brings sunshine and warmer weather the lid is lifted and the Danes, quite literally, ”spring out.” ”Hygge” takes to the streets, parks, gardens, and even to the sea. It is this collective feeling of bursting forth that I have been waiting to capture in photographs.

Easter lambs at Fuglebjerggaard

Depending upon when Easter falls, the first sign of spring is usually the arrival of “påskebryg,” or “Easter brew.” A few days before Easter, more than a hundred varieties of special beer are launched simultaneously in kiosks, supermarkets, cafés and restaurants on a day known as “P-Dag.” This year, Easter was early and the beer arrived long before the spring weather.

Students in Kongs Have in Copenhagen

But when enough sunshine appears to bring slightly warmer weather, outdoor beer drinking becomes the national pastime. The professionals, also fondly referred to as “crooked existences,” will socialize all day on benches in parks and town squares. Please note that most Danes are not concerned with political correctness. This may be because the Danes really believe their nonjudgmental popular expression that “there is room for everyone here.”

First ice cream of the season

Springtime in Denmark brings other seasonal treats. Specialty ice cream shops open for the spring/summer season and close again in late summer when the customers stop coming. The best ones are small family businesses that use local ingredients like forest strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, elderflowers, and even licorice.

Starting in March,  fish sellers get the delicious pink caviar of an ugly fish called a “stenbidder,” or lumpfish. The tiny eggs are eaten on toasted sourdough bread with sour cream, lemon, and spring onion. Another treat is the delicate white meat of a long thin fish with blue-green bones called a “hornfisk,” or garfish. Garfish is usually available throughout the spring and into the summer months.

Young nettles

Long before Rene Redzepi’s restaurant Noma and the marketing of new Nordic cuisine, Danes have used young nettles, new birch leaves, and other leaves and flowers in their spring recipes for everything from soup to meatballs. In the springtime, many parks and forest preserves offer educational walks with instruction as to which plants and flowers are edible, along with recipes. My young adult children still enjoy plucking and eating fresh birch leaves, something they learned to do in nursery school.

Duck with her ducklings

Spring in Denmark also marks the opening of the two oldest amusement parks in the world, Tivoli Gardens and Dyrehavsbakken, or Bakken.

Tivoli was founded in 1843 and has always been a garden with a lake and a variety of attractions including a merry-go-round, a train and other mechanical rides, an exotic “oriental-style” pavilion, a theatre, and several bandstands. Tivoli opens each year in mid-April and has retained its old-fashioned charm, while also being the most visited amusement park in the world. For many Danes, a trip to Tivoli to see  “Tivoligarden,” a marching band of boys between the ages of 9 and 16 that has existed since 1844, and the Tivoli fireworks is an important rite of spring.

Couple with twins in Frederiksberg, Denmark

Bakken originated in 1583 when a young woman named Kirstin Piil discovered a fresh water spring in a forest outside of Copenhagen. The clean water was believed to have healing powers and the spring drew large crowds. These crowds attracted street hawkers and entertainers. The spring was on royal hunting grounds and the area was eventually closed to the public. When it reopened in 1756, the hawkers and entertainers returned, and Bakken quickly gained a reputation throughout Europe as the first amusement park in the world. The Italian character Pjerrot became Bakken’s mascot, and over time the entertainment grew to include carnival-style games, cabarets, a circus review, roller coasters and other rides, and restaurants.

Bakken opens every year on the last Thursday of March, and this opening is another important springtime event. The opening and closing of Bakken is marked by a parade of between 5,000 and 7,000 motorcyclists from all over Scandinavia and Europe who ride 10 kilometers from Central Copenhagen to the amusement park. This tradition was started in 1965 by Bjørn Andersen, a member of a Danish motercycle gang, but is no longer limited to members of “De Vilde Engel,” or “The Wild Angels.”

If you watch the video below, you will see that the motorcycle parade took place this year on another mostly-overcast day.

Runners at the lakes in Copenhagen

Throughout the month of April, the sun has peeked out from time to time and more and more trees and flowers are starting to bloom. There have been a few sunny afternoons and mild evenings, but not enough warmth and sunshine to give the Danes real Danish-style, collective spring fever. I just checked the weather forecast for this weekend and it looks like cloudy skies and more rain. I guess I have to accept that springtime in Denmark can come without the bursting forth of the Danes. No one likes to mention it, but there have been years where there has been so little sunshine that the summer was referred to as “a green winter.” We will have to wait and see. In the meantime, I will light a few more tea candles.

A spring bouquet of anemones

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  • Just One Boomer June 16, 2012 at 12:49 am

    I’m just back from a trip to Europe (from the USA) that involved a four day visit to Copenhagen. We had one sunny day out of four, but only one soaking rain. Certainly, in early June, the cafes still had blankets on their outside chairs for those longing for spring so hard that they traded “coziness” for sitting outside—air temperature be damned.

    I suspect the editors frown on links in comments, but I will mention that if you click on my name (or pseudonym) above, it will take you to my blog where I have just published a post concerning Ireland, Denmark and the Vikings.

  • quintessence May 8, 2012 at 7:53 am

    Keeping my fingers crossed that more sunshine comes your way!! The Danes are certainly a resilient, accepting, cheerful bunch and whether spring has sprung with sunshine or not, I’m sure there will be much celebrating in order!!

  • Dr. Patricia Yarberry Allen May 8, 2012 at 7:25 am

    Thanks for the spring vacation in Denmark, Suzanne. It is fascinating how climate creates rituals that are so in sync with a culture. We hope you don’t have a green winter. If you do, take an extended holiday here with us.

    Dr. Pat