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Easter in Sweden, traditions and celebration!
Most people In Sweden celebrate Easter in a way that is a mix of pagan traditions as well as christian traditions. And our Easter celebration takes place during the following days which in Swedish are called:
Skärtorsdag - Thursday before Easter
Långfredag - is a public holiday in Sweden
Påskdagen - Easter Sunday, is a public holiday in Sweden
Annandag Påsk - Easter Monday, is a public holiday in Sweden
In this article I am going to describe the history behind our traditional celebration on Easter and I will focus on the part of the celebration that isn't related to religion. It is a fun tradition that has a scary history behind it.
And there is no Easter celebration without Easter witches!
Swedish Easter witches!
Easter in Sweden starts with Skärtorsdag, which is Thursday before Easter. And Skärtorsdag is a very special day in Sweden because this is the day when the Swedish Easter witches, (påskkärringarna in Swedish) is on the move in Sweden!
The tradition to get dressed up as a Påskkärring have a long history in Sweden and it is mostly children who dress up as Easter witches. A real Easter witch have a kerchief or a headscarf where the ends are tied under the chin. They are also dressed in a long skirt and usually have an apron. Other necessary accessories are a basket, an old coffee pan or a small bucket. In order to look as a real påskkärring they should also have their face painted with big red cheeks, some lipstick and painted freckles. In this outfit, they start to go from house to house to give away drawings or easter letters and they are expecting to get some candy, cakes or money in return. They look absolutely adorable, when they stand outside the door, dressed as påskkärringar and look at you with their eyes shining with excitement. I make sure that I always have something at home to give them, because I don't want to disappoint them nor do I want to see their sad faces! But lately I think that some children have become too focused on the candy and they simply skip the Easter Letters. I haven't yet decide what I will do the next time a child simply stands on my doorstep, holding forward the basket and are expecting to get the basket filled with candy without leaving a letter to me!
Easter letters are letters containing a colourful drawing of Easter witch on their way to Blåkulla, and mostly a text that says: ”Happy Easter ” and maybe a short poem. The letters was said to be messages to other witches, or messages to others from witches. From the beginning, the Easter letters was decorated with a feather in bright colour and that is believed to be the origin of our tradition to bring in birch twigs for Easter.
Birch twigs for Easter (in Swedish we call it Påskris)
I can not leave out the birch twigs or the Easter birch in this article about Easter in Sweden because it is a tradition that influence our Easter celebration today. Historically the twigs was used for whipping each other, mainly as a symbol for the suffering Jesus did on Easter Friday and the whippings is said to have roots back to the 1600s. Eventually, the whipping evolved into a game and even the children was allowed to whip their parent on Easter for fun. Birch twigs was also used to whip each other during a sauna bath. We don't whip each other on Easter today, besides the times when we take a sauna bath, but we bring in Easter twigs and decorate the branches with colourful eggs, feathers and of course witches!
The traditional colours that are used for Easter decoration are firstly yellow colour. Yellow are a symbol for the sun and for small fluffy chickens, egg yolk and yellow daffodils. Other colours that are being used are purple, pink, blue, green, red, white but also black.
Traditionally we eat many eggs during Easter and egg are a vital ingredient in many dishes on the Swedish Easter dinner table. And since we Swedes love our herring, which is a traditional ingredient on both Easter, Midsummer Eve as well as Christmas, we eat a lot of herring during Easter too! Herring and boiled egg with a perfectly cooked potatoes is heavenly, and is something I really enjoy. I can forsake almost everything else on the Easter dinner but not herring, egg and potatoes!
The egg theme is also visible in other things during Easter. For example in the bigger eggs, which are made of paperboard and are filled with candy, and which we use for the children's egg hunt. Eggs in other materials are also used as gifts filled with other things during easter.
What about the Easter Bunny?
The Easter bunny is more a figurative creature than a real bunny in Sweden! Personally, I have mostly seen bunnies of marzipan or chocolate which are for eating as treats. Otherwise, the easter bunny is mostly mentioned as the one who hides the children´s Easter eggs, but there isn't any bunny visible!
Why do Påskkärringar run around on Thursday before Easter? The history behind the Swedish Easter witch!
The tradition to dress up as an Easter witch has been done for as long as I can remember and it is said to have its origin in the big witch hunt back in the 1600s. Back then, it was believed that the devil invited the witches to a party on Skärtorsdag. The witches began their journey trough the chimney in their house while they said the magical words: go now, up and down, and all the way to hell”!
It was also believed that the witches rested on the church towers, so the church towers was one place where it was best to look out for witches during Maundy thursday. The women could use all kinds of tools to ride on when they flew to Blåkulla as a witch and it was common to hide or lock in all the tools that could be used for transportation. Some tools and animals where regarded as especially suspicious and things like sticks, shovels, a broomstick or even a cow was believed to be tools that could be used for the ride. And a black cat was one animal that people belived followed the witch to Blåkulla, sitting on the broom. To me, all these tools or animals was things that the women usually used in some way or had around them, so it must have been very easy to be accused of being a witch in those days. There was several ways you could protect the house from the evil forces and they had their guns loaded, just in case, and they also used the word of God as protection from the evil.
It is tradition to shoot fireworks or Easter firecrackers during Easter nowadays and the shooting usually begins at Thursday before Easter. Some say that the tradition to use firecrackers comes from the old traditions to fire shots after Easter witches on their way to Blåkulla, and maybe that is true.
Tradition says that all witches fly to Blåkulla on Skärtorsdag, Thursday before Easter! And they stayed there until Saturday or Easter Sunday when they returned to their home. According to old stories, a real witch could be at Blåkulla without anyone noticed she was gone. So a women could be accused for being a witch even though she stayed inside the house during the whole Easter.
Blåkulla is described as a forbidden place where the witches had a party with the devil during several days. The party are described as a excessive partying with heavy drinking, sex and dancing. Some stories say that all was done backwards at Blåkulla and there are stories about women who was dancing back to back, sat at the table with the back towards the table, women who had sex with several people at the same time and even got married to several people.
Most of the stories sounds like the imaginations coming from a mentally unstable person and I am glad that I am living now and not back in the 1600s. Poor women, what they have been forced to put up with!
So, now you all know what to do! I have everything ready for a real Easter celebration!