’tis the season

I’ve been absent from this blog for much too long. I’ve been away on my Erasmus-year, a study abroad program in the European Union. I live in Edinburgh now. I’ve been busy as all hell, with classes, new friends, a new city and about a million papers to write.

It’s the Advent season now. In Denmark we celebrate it, although I’m not sure that’s the correct term to describe what is theologically a season of sorrow. We assemble wreaths and plant candles in them, four for each Sunday of the Advent. When I was little my mother and I would sing a song as we lighted the candles, first one, then two, then three and finally all four. Each candle symbolised a good quality; hope, mercy, love and  kindness.

Advent Wreath

This wreath carries on in the tradition of using purple in Advent decorations. Traditionally, purple has been the colour of Christian mourning, and the Advent season is one for mourning Jesus’ death. The days between Christmas Eve and Twelfth Night are the days to be happy and rejoice in. This meaning has nearly been lost but when advent wreaths where introduced to Denmark, from Germany (like the Christmas Tree), around the time of the First World War they were almost exclusively kept in purple. Nowadays, the most normal colours to decorate one’s wreath in are red and white (thanks, Coca-Cola).

WWII era stamp depicting an advent wreath

This stamp from 1946, just after the end of the Second World War, depicts an Advent wreath hanging from the ceiling. I’ve previously posted about St. Lucia and how the celebrations surrounding this tradition uplifted the Danish nation in a time of war. The advent wreath is another symbol of the light shining in the darkness.

Around Christmas time most cities also undergo a makeover. These images are from Copenhagen.

Photo: Brian Bergmann/Scanpix 2006

(Can you tell I’m homesick?)

This Lucia-crown is very modern. It's quite lovely, no?


I wrote about St. Lucia and the strange case of a Catholic saint being celebrated in Protestant Scandinavia here. How sad that this is almost a year ago and still on my first page. I promise not to neglect my poor blog anymore.


Another Yuletide favourite. I'm not entirely sure what honeycakes have in common with Christmas, except for the Santa, or sometimes angel, they stamp onto them. They're usually only sold around Christmas, which is a shame, since they're very good.


That’s a bit about Christmas in Denmark. Maybe next time I update it will be about Christmas in Edinburgh?


Anne of Denmark

Anne of Denmark

Today, 436 years ago, Anne was born at Skanderborg Castle. She was the second child, and second girl, of Frederik the Second and his queen, Sophie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. After her christening she was sent to be raised by her maternal grandparents in Wismar, capital of what is now Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. She had a quiet childhood there and it wasn’t until three years later she returned to Denmark, to greet the birth of her brother, Christian who later became Christian the Fourth of Denmark (the most famous of all the Danish kings), and once he had been christened in Copenhagen, away to Germany they went. She stayed there with her older sister, Elisabeth and Christian, for around a year. It was their father, Frederik, who wrote for the Duke and Duchess of Mecklenburg, in a letter brimming with paternal love. He wanted his children back. When Christian was old enough he was sent to school, while Elisabeth and Anne stayed with their mother and father.

Anne of Denmark

All Frederik and Sophie’s children were raised in the Lutheran faith that their grandfather had brough to Denmark. They were given educations and travelled the Danish kingdom, which at this time included Norway, certain parts of Northern Germany and Southern Sweden, with their mother and father.

In 1588 Frederik died of a lung infection. The plans for a princess of Denmark to marry the king of Scotland, James the First, were already underway. At first Elisabeth had been the chosen candidate but while Frederik was still alive he betrothed her to the Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg. As he did so he promised to the Scottish delegation “for the second daughter, Anne, if the king did like her, he should have her”. Anne was fourteen when she travelled to Norway, to be met by her husband.

Possibly Anne of Denmark, by Paul Somer

After the final agreement was signed in July, Anne was married by proxy at Kronborg, the most modern castle in Denmark, to James. Ten days later she set out for Scotland with her was her recently widowed mother and older sister. Her eleven-year old brother, who now was king, was at school back home. The fleet was beset by trouble and the ship carrying the princess and her family was forced to land in Norway, for fear of the sea. It was a lord Dingwall who brought news of the misfortune to king James in Scotland, and James immediately ordered public prayers and national fasting.

In October he was again informed that the Danes were staying in Norway for the winter, afraid of the autumn seas. James must have thought “weather be damned” because he himself, along with three-hundred men, set out for Norway. Upon arrival he had to travel some distance over land to meet his bride but upon reaching her dwelling-place presented himself to her “in boots and all” and kissed her, in the Scottish fashion. It must have been a great shock to her, such showings of affection were, at the Danish court, passed in private and only after the wedding. Although, other sources do claim that she was wildly in love with him, having herself embroidered shirts for him back home, so maybe the kiss wasn’t quite so unwelcome, though it shocked her mother and sister, and the rest of the Danish delegation.

They were formally married the 23rd of November, at the Old Bishop’s Palace in Oslo. “With all the splendour possible at the time and place” probably means that the wedding party was slightly subdued. It is unclear whether it was before or after the wedding ceremony, but as a precaution against future storms James ordered the burning of up to ten witches that he believed had caused the storms that made it impossible for Anne to meet her husband in Norway.

The newlyweds celebrated their wedding in Oslo for a full month, before travelling to Denmark on the 22nd of December with only fifty of James’ men. There they met the young king and his council, celebrated Christmas with the family at Kronborg and in March travelled to Copenhagen to attend the wedding of Anne’s older sister, Elisabeth to Julius of Braunswick-Lüneburg. Two days later they finally made for Leith, Scotland. Five days after their arrival Anne made her official entry into Edinburgh, riding in a silver coach with her husband on horseback besides her.

On the 17th of May she was crowned queen of Scotland. The ceremony lasted seven hours and during the anointing in holy oil, Anne’s dress was opened so that oil could be poured upon her breast and arm. It was chancellor Maitland who crowned Anne, and her oath indluded a pledge to defend the true faith against “papistical superstitions and whatsoever ceremonies and rites contrary to the word of God.”

Anne's coat of arms, combining those of her husband with her father's.

Anne, 1617.

by Paul van Somer