Candles in Windows

May 4 - Fifty-nine years ago today, just five days after Hitler's suicide, German forces in Denmark (along with those in Holland and northwest Germany) surrendered unconditionally to British Field Marshal Montgomery. Danes used to commemorate the event by lighting candles in their windows on the anniversary. Some still do, but it's a distinct minority.

"When this generation dies," my mother-in-law explained to me Sunday night, "the candles will die too."

I suppose that's the way history ought to be—or at least, the way our ritual memories of history ought to be: self-effacing and renewable. Personally I've vowed that on every September 11 for the rest of my life I would light candles, decant a bottle of single-malt scotch, and watch the videos I recorded from our New York apartment on 9/11. I lived up to that vow on the first anniversary, but missed on the second.

As human adults we can't remember our own lives in their entirety; it would be unfair of us to demand more of society than we're willing (or able) to demand of ourselves.

That much said, a year ago tonight the DMG and I had enjoyed a dinner at her mother's house. Her mother had remembered just as the sun was setting that it was May 4, and had rushed about the house setting and lighting candles in all the windows. On the walk home the DMG and I observed candles in about a fifth of the windows we passed. We both remarked upon the sadness of observing a tradition in its waning stages, and upon the simple beauty of what those candles represented: solemn gratitude for and remembrance of their liberation.

We'll light a candle in our window tonight.

* * *

Or maybe tomorrow night. Additional research suggests that the Nazis surrendered on May 5.

Or maybe word came down the pike on May 4 and the Danes lit all their candles in anticipation of the next day's official liberation. I don't know, but I'd be very happy to hear from anyone who does, and will be sure to post the information once I receive it. (Maybe over on the American expatriate experience in Denmark blog.)

* * *

Neil Young once wrote a song about May 4, but it had nothing to do with liberation, Nazis, or Field Marshal Montgomery. It was to commemorate the events of May 4, 1970, when twenty-eight National Guardsmen opened fire on a crowd of demonstrating students at Kent State, in Ohio. Four students were killed, nine were injured.

Dagens Ord

The word of the day is befrielse, meaning "liberation."

Birthdays and Holidays

George Will and Pia Zadora both celebrate their birthdays on May 4, but probably not together. Mr. Will turns 63 this year; Ms. Zadora 48. They share their birthday with Audrey Hepburn (1929) and Heloise (1919).

May 4 is Flag Day in Bosnia, Youth Day in China, and Memorial Day in the Netherlands. And also Holland.

Better get your Cinco De Mayo shopping done by the end of the day!

Happy Tuesday!

2004, The Moron's Almanac™

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