Photograph of a woman and child looking at the candles burning in the window 4 May

Photo: Gunvor Betting Jørgsholm

Candlelight in the windows

During the occupation, blackout curtains had left the streets in darkness, but when liberation came, so did the light. We examine the tradition of candlelight in the windows on 4 May.

Photograph of candle in window sill.

Photo: Erik Betting

When the German occupying power occupied Denmark on April 9 1940, the Danes were required to darken their windows and limit all outdoor lighting. The street lighting was shielded so that the light could not be seen from above, and all vehicle lights only had narrow slits of light to shine through. To make it possible to travel on the streets in the evening and at night, the curbs and the rear fender of bicycles were painted white so that they could be seen in the dark. The reason for the blackout was to make it difficult for "enemy" airplanes to navigate over the country.

When the message of liberation sounded on the radio on the evening of 4 May, the Danes could breathe a sigh of relief. The darkness that had ravaged the land for five years was now over. People tore down the hated blackout curtains and let the light shine through every window. In some places, the blackout curtains were burned in the street in the frenzy of joy.

A few years after the end of the war, it became possible to buy candles again, and people began to put candles in the windowsills on the evening of 4 May. That tradition has been repeated year after year in Danish homes, and today almost half of the Danes put candles in the window to mark Denmark's liberation and the return of light.

It is far from the only lighting custom we have in Denmark. Hear senior researcher Caroline Nyvang talk about the tradition of putting candles in the window on 4 May, and what other customs involving light we have in Denmark.

Candlelight in the windows

Caroline Nyvang talks about the tradition of putting candles in the windows on the evening of 4 May. The video was recorded via zoom during the shutdown. The video is in Danish.