On a chilly December day in Copenhagen, my Danish friend Sussi takes me on a brisk walk through Frederiksberg Gardens. The tree trunks are drab and bare. Then in the distance I spy one tree whose branches are alive with color: pinks, yellows, blues, and reds. As I get a closer, I can’t believe what I am seeing: hundreds of baby pacifiers, tied onto the tree with bright ribbons, dancing in the wind.
“What is that?” I ask my friend.
At first she can’t think of the English equivalent of the Danish word sut, so she calls it “the sucky tree.” Then she explains that in Denmark tradition dictates that when toddlers turn 3, it is time to give up their beloved pacifiers. To make the painful separation easier, they are brought by their parents to this 250-year old park to bestow their treasured companions on the Pacifier Tree.
Toddlers often visit the tree before they turn 3 to see how other children have entrusted theirs to the tree when they got “big.” Some parents tell their little ones that the Pacifier Fairy will reward them with a small gift in exchange for their pacifiers and they can always come back and visit their old pacifiers whenever they come to the park.
I remember when I looked for ideas to help my own daughter take the big step. It was a lonely battle. Books and online sites advise American parents to give all the pacifiers to a new baby who needs them, take them to the dump, secretly cut off a quarter-inch of the nipple everyday until it is reduced to a stub, paint it with bad tasting liquid or even make a slit in the bottom then insert a plastic ant and show the child how gross it is.
Frederiksberg Gardens is an inviting expanse, with lakes, playgrounds and a zoo to explore. Looking at the venerable Pacifier Tree, its arms covered in gaily colored ribbons, notes, balloons and binkies, I am struck by a feeling of connectedness to all the children whose first rite of passage out of babyhood has been eased by this lovely ritual. The clusters of pacifiers sport heartfelt notes from the toddlers to the tree (transcribed by their parents, of course). Sussi translates for me:
“Goodbye, pacifier, my best friend. I love you. I will miss you. But now I am BIG boy. Kind regards, Lucas”
“Dear Pacifier Tree, I hope you will take good care of my pacifiers, because now I am 3 years old and won’t need them any more. Love, Brita.”