Thursday, March 15, 2012

Letters with Love Knots and Riddles

Bindebrev from 1600s
A Bindebrev was a letter, used in Denmark between the 1600s and 1800s, which had to bind or tie the receiver. The letter had some verse and a silk cord with a lot of knots attached. The idea was that the receiver had to loosen the knots, and if this was impossible, then the receiver was bound to hold a party, give a kiss or whatever it might be. The point was to bind the knots so tight that it was impossible to loosen them. The letter was binding from the moment when the receiver touched it the first time, and the sender had to sneak it into the hands of the receiver.
 a letter like a love knot
The binding letter was connected to a person's name day (they did not celebrate their birthday, but only name day in the 1600s) or it could be used at one of four special days during the year called tamperdays. The binding letters came to Denmark from Germany and were known and used since the 1600s.  It was difficult to make contact between the sexes at that time, and the binding letters were originally love letters. The knots on the silk cord were called love knots.  The letters were often very artful and decorated with colours, flowers and verse. A  bindingletter is known from Christian IV to his mistress Karen Andersdatter.

how to begin
a very fine gækkebrev

They were replaced by the gækkebreve. A gækkebrev is a specific Danish tradition from Easter. It is a letter cut in paper in a fine symmetrical pattern. The name gækkebrev is connected to the flower vintergæk (English snowdrop), and besides containing a riddle, a verse or a poem the letter often has a fine pressed flower of the pretty vintergæk. A gækkebrev is sent anonymously with dots instead of letters . "Mit navn det står med prikker. "(My name is with dots) - and often a little Easter poem is added. The poem might be a few sentences or nonsense verse or a more poetic verse.

Gækkebreve are mostly used by children today. When those Easter letters replaced the binding letters they were still used by adults, and the love knots were cut like complicated paper clip, where the pattern fx formed several hearts. The receiver had three guesses to find the name of the sender and if he or she  hadn't guessed it after three attempts, they had to give the sender an Easter egg. 

The word gække : 
To gække means to trick or to fool , which also lies in the word vintergæk, the flower which tricks summer and is in full bloom in winter. To gække each other is to trick each other in a playful way.

If you could not guess the name of the sender, you were a gæk (fool) - and if you had forgotten to attach a vintergæk, then you were also a gæk. But there were many variations. 


Joan said...

What charming traditions. Thank you for sharing, Greathe.

Thyra said...

Hej Joan, I'm sure you with your talents would love such fine letters like the old binding letters. The first little picture is a letter, which is now at the National Museum, because it is so rare. I wish people had kept their things more than they have!!

So keep your beautiful doodles.

Grethe ´)

Teresa Evangeline said...

What lovely traditions. It reminds me a bit of our May Day baskets, but more artful. It also makes me wonder if our current use of the word "geek" to describe someone who is quite intelligent and into the more esoteric arts, shall we say, has its roots here.

Thyra said...

Hej Teresa! And this is one of the reasons why it is so exciting to be here in blogville, because there are so many funny similarities between the countries. There might be a connection between these words, but it is possibly impossible to find out. It's a riddle!
Grethe ´)