And Thou Shalt Not Shop on Sunday…

by Tim Anderson (

I have been complaining to anyone who will listen for several years now (which usually means my girlfriend) about Denmark’s ridiculously antiquated Sunday shopping laws (‘lukkelovn’ in Danish). These laws are based on the most utterly nonsensical logic imaginable. The arguments for allowing shops to finally open on Sundays and later on weeknights are painfully obvious and compelling – yet they haven’t sunk in.

Outside of downtown Copenhagen, nearly all shops in Denmark close by two (!!) in the afternoon on Saturdays and six in the evening on Monday to Friday. Yes, this means that for the average working person in Denmark there is at best an hour after work on weekdays and five hours on Saturday at best for shopping – if one is willing and able to sacrifice the rare chance to sleep in on Saturday.

On the few Sundays each year when shops are allowed to open, the streets are buzzing with activity. Then there are the unbelievable weekly Sunday queues at the few grocery stores that can open on Sunday. To say there is a pent up demand for this kind of shopping flexibility could not be more dramatically underscored. Still, the government refuses to cede to the overwhelming evidence before it’s eyes.

In fact, with these ridiculously limited hours, getting out of the house on Saturday mornings to run around in a frenzy alongside the thousands of others facing these identical time constraints is the only real option most people have. The realities of life mean a certain amount of time is required each week for buying stuff, and there is only limited amount of time to buy it. The most grievously frustrating aspect of this state of affairs is that shortened shopping hours produce the polar opposite effects they are intended to.

Instead of leaving more time for the sort of loving, warm, fuzzy relationships the government has historically imagined are nurtured by closing shops early, people are forced to rush around hurriedly when they could most use a bit of time to relax – the day after a long work week. Under such time pressures, their worst sides often emerge: tempers become short, frustrations boil and resentment that previously didn’t exist appears – and all for the wrong reasons. Worse still, even when everybody agrees they would rather be doing something else, they are often forced by the necessity of their needs to go shopping nonetheless.

One wonders where exactly the benefits are in this perverse system of enforced madness?

It is an entirely unpleasant experience to run around trying to buy all those things that are best shopped for at a leisurely pace (clothes, furniture and so on) over a few inadequate hours. To imagine these pressures do not have unpleasant side-effects is outright delusional - they create some of the worst tensions that families and relationships are ritually forced to endure in Denmark.

Consider that the divorce rate in Denmark is currently running around 50% - and has been increasing for decades. While there are many factors behind this, what is certain is families have many demands placed on them, and they clearly do not always succeed in coping with them. It beggars belief to imagine that these short shopping hours make things any easier.

With an extra day of shopping on Sunday and longer weekday shopping hours, individuals and families could be flexible about how and when they wanted to spend time with their loved ones – some of which would include more leisurely shopping. Saturday may be the perfect day for a walk in the park, or a visit to a museum, or to simply spend time with the kids or a boyfriend or girlfriend doing whatever they would like to do. Currently, when one need new shoes, a new jacket and so on, for whatever reason, these become the overriding Saturday priorities – it is the only time to buy the stuff, so all else must wait. Even if these ‘other activities’ being put off are precisely the ones family relations could benefit most from. It is so patently obvious it should really not need to be said.

There are countless other points to be made. The fact that Danish ideal weather conditions for having ‘a family day’ are not always co-ordinated with Sundays is a significant point. While shopping can be done in most weather conditions, a walk in the park is most appealing on sunny days – which could be Saturday! Visitors to Copenhagen from around Denmark and tourists from other countries are a small but significant portion of the Copenhagen economy – these people can only walk around on Sundays with money to spend but nothing to buy. So forget the weather, forget the visitors, and forget flexibility - Saturday is designated ‘shopping day’ by the rationally-impaired Danish government. So it must be.

So here I sit on this Sunday typing this frustrated little rant – I’ve already been out for a pleasantly leisurely walk earlier with my girlfriend, the only real choice we had anyway. I’m home enjoying some of that lovely government-imposed family time. My girlfriend and I both agree it would be great to go shopping today for the new chair for the living room we have been intending to buy for ages now. What better day than Sunday to be able to leisurely visit a few furniture shops until we found what it was we were after? In fact, perhaps along the way we could stop at a cafe and have some lunch together…hmmm, this sounds suspiciously like the sort of quality-time together Sunday closings were supposed to facilitate in the first place? Funny that…

To continue to hold up the antiquated logic of Sunday closings benefiting society is simply unreasoned nonsense. Shopping hours in Denmark as they stand currently are a significant drag on a more smoothly functioning society. It is a shame, yet things could be so easily changed. And it can’t happen soon enough, if you ask me.

2 Response to "And Thou Shalt Not Shop on Sunday…"

  1. Stephanie says:

    I spent a college semester in Copenhagen in the mid 80's and stayed with a host family. In the evenings after dinner, we'd all sit around in the living room; the mom doing cross-stitching, the dad watching TV, the teenage kids perhaps reading. On Sundays usually there'd be friends visiting or we'd bake or something. All this I remember very fondly. However, I totally understand that for a younger working person or a couple, it can be very frustrating to not be able to go out and get your shopping or chores done.

    Michael says:

    "Instead of leaving more time for the sort of loving, warm, fuzzy relationships the government has historically imagined are nurtured by closing shops early, people are forced to rush around hurriedly when they could most use a bit of time to relax – the day after a long work week."

    Except you're forgetting all the people who have to work in the shops if they were open!! : )

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