Last night we celebrated an authentically Danish Halloween. That statement alone may seem controversial to some. Do Danes even do Halloween? Why yes. Yes they do. But Danes fall on two sides of the fence when it comes to the prevalence of what they see as a very American holiday. Some embrace it full on, while others ignore it, or worse, admonish the obvious escalation in adoption of the holiday here. We have witnessed an increase in participation, just in the two years that we have lived in Copenhagen. More jack-o-lanterns gleaming from windows and restaurant perches. Orange and black decorations in shops and on the street. Pumpkins for sale for the entire month of October.
And for what it is worth, last night’s Halloween was definitively Danish. How so? Let me share. First of all we took our daughter to a Danish neighborhood. One of the cutest neighborhoods in Copenhagen if you ask me. Trick or treating in apartment blocks where we live proves a challenge. What bell to ring and which floor to traipse to? Hard to know in a town that only partially celebrates. So we walked a little ways to the Kartofflerækkerne. The “potato rows.” Darling little row houses sit sandwiched along several blocks near the Lakes in Østerbro. You can find them running between Øster Søgade and Øster Farimagsgade. Each with a little fenced yard, on Halloween their gates and doors are open. Decorated with cobwebs, jack-o-lanterns and fog machines. Many sporting more haunting decor.
Every house doesn’t participate, but the majority do. And they don’t say “Trick or Treat” in this neighborhood. This is a Danish Halloween. Here you say “Slik eller ballade.” Directly translated it means candy or trouble. We didn’t run into much trouble last night beyond the unfortunate signs on doors reading “Ikke mere slik.” No more candy. To join in the fun – trying saying it like “slick ayl-uh beh-lel.” Mash it together quickly and say it confidently. And always say TAK. Thank you for the treat!
Now what kind of treats might you receive for a Danish Halloween you might be wondering? Lots of licorice? Some, yes. It’s black. It fits with the theme. Danes do love licorice. They do love slik. They are used to buying it weekly from bulk shops on every corner. So on Halloween, why would it be strange to offer bowls of loose slik. Loose candy. In a bowl for all those little hands to pick a piece or two. Ummm. Yep. It’s true. So plop it in your bag, that gummy treat. That unwrapped gummy treat. I’m not a germaphobe, but after years of conditioning from earliest Halloween memories – it feels very odd to me. As American children, we were not allowed to eat unwrapped candy. Did I let my daughter eat her Danish Halloween slik? Yes. Most of it.
Alongside the slik, some offered popcorn. Bowls of popcorn that would be administered by the host – a cup or scoop of popcorn right into your bag. Of treats. With all those loose gummies. Ummm. By the end of the misty evening – everything not wrapped became a wee bit sticky, crusty and homogeneous tasting. Ummm. I think my editing of what to eat and not to eat sorted itself out by default for the most part.
At one house my daughter received a plastic shot glass of liquid. After passing the street party a few rows back, I did a quick sniff and a little taste. I trust Danes. I do. But even my daughter was wary on this one. Oh! No worries. Just apple juice. Very thoughtful indeed. Mouths must be parched after so much popcorn. Stuck to your gummies. And how about the bowl of mini marshmallows plus m&m’s with the instruction to “tag to.” Take two. Mini-marshmallows. Tak!
And what about costumes? What do they wear? Not so very different from Halloween anywhere. But Danes already have a holiday where the children dress up and get treats (which is big reason they don’t need a Halloween). It’s called Fastelavn and it falls on Shrove Tuesday before Lent in February. To distinguish that celebration from this, Halloween has become the spooky holiday. Translation? Gruesome. GROSS. Gory. Bloody. Zombies. Axe-wielding clowns. Yep. They made it to Denmark. Packs of teens with nothing but some blood on their face making the rounds. A few super heroes here and there. But mostly witches and werewolves and scissors in heads. Halloween is no place for unicorns and princesses and bananas or puns. Not in Denmark.
Did we have fun? Of course we did. And not in a make fun of Halloween done Danishly. Don’t get me wrong. We delighted in the differences. We dove into the whole deal. Our daughter spoke Danish. When she understood. “Slik eller ballade!” “Tak!” And she smiled and said “Tak! Hej! Hej!” When she didn’t. It was delicious. All of it.
*NOTE: Originally published I mentioned that “Slik eller ballade” translates to sweets or a ballad. Unfortunately a bad auto translation of a Danish newspaper article via Google Chrome led me down an incorrect path. My Danish fact checkers corrected me and the post has been updated. Cheers!