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Easter in Sweden: when the witches come out to play

Easter in Sweden: when the witches come out to play

Published: 21 Apr 2011 08:23 GMT+02:00
Updated: 21 Apr 2011 08:23 GMT+02:00

Brightly colored feathers in blues, reds, yellows and glaring pinks tied to long willowy twigs sold beside daffodil buds tip off the arrival of the Easter season in Sweden.

The local supermarkets in their weekly adverts also exploit the food associations of chicks, lamb, påskmust, eggs, sweets and the obligatory “påskkäring” or Easter witch to draw in customers gearing up for the upcoming gluttony of Påskafton.

Easter celebrations and traditions for the secular Swede are nearly as sacred as Christmas to the Swedish culture. Even devout atheists pay respect to the long-standing traditional norms that the holiday dictates in Sweden. Easter is a big deal to the entire country.

Religious Easter isn’t completely removed from the celebrations of the modern Swede. Swedes are traditionalists after all.

There will always be the group of churchgoers on Easter Sunday. Most likely they are the same gang who went to church for julotta Christmas morning. However, Easter today, has little to do with Christian beliefs for the majority of Swedes.

Children dressed as witches give a clear indication that Swedish Påsk origins predate Christianity. Folklore alleges that witches flew off on broomsticks to dance with the devil at Blåkulla.

In Sweden, this tale ties in with Easter. And so on skärtorsdag, Maundy Thursday, modern Swedish children dress up as påskkärringar (Easter hags) paint their faces, carry a broom and knock on neighbor’s doors for treats, much like American children do at Halloween.

Children also contribute to the tradition of Easter worldwide. What would Easter be without beautifully painted and adorned Easter eggs? Swedes just revere their Easter eggs –the decorative and the edible versions.

Semlor are still on sale despite the Lenten fast, and anticipation of the big day grows in the week beginning with Palm Sunday. In conservative communities there is an air of solemnity.

It would be taboo to get married or baptize a child during this week. And many die hard traditionalists still scowl at the modern disregard of a sober Good Friday and snort at the mention of potential merriment that evening.

Only in recent years are cinemas allowed to be open. Good Friday is more appropriately named in Swedish Långfredag – Long Friday, the most unhappening day of the calendar. Fun not allowed.

However, once the mourning of the crucifixion of Christ is over, the proverbial good times roll.

Saturday morning resembles a resurrection of sorts.

Spring is in the air, merriment is on the menu. The family will sit down to an ample feast in the afternoon on Påskafton, or the Eve of Easter. Eggs and lamb are the quintessential Easter fare that very nearly connote Påsk all by themselves. They represent the fertility of the spring and the rebirth of the year after the long winter.

Bonfires are lit in some regions of Sweden in the late afternoon.

Some say they are to scare off the evil influences of the Easter hags and their journey to Blåkulla. Others take the opportunity to clear gardens for the coming spring. For some regions, including the Stockholm area, the bonfires must wait until Valborgsmässafton or Walpurgis Night at the end of April to banish the remnants of winter.

Elizabeth Dacey-Fondelius

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Your comments about this article

02:27 April 22, 2011 by Robert C. Anderson
It's a relief to see that some Western countries still celebrate an Easter season. In the U. S., some places refer to Easter eggs as "spring spheres" to avoid angering those who do not celebrate Easter. If there was one world culture, what holidays would we have? No, it would not be Ramadan. We would have the Winter Festival, the Spring Festival, . . .but wait, those in the Southern Hemisphere would be angered by this since their seasons are opposite.
04:02 April 22, 2011 by No Haram Done
To Beloved Sverige:

Have a merry Easter (or: Eastre, Eostre, Ostara, Austron, Asheran, Ashtart, Astarte, Ashtoreth, Aphrodite, Uni-Astre, Anat, Isis &/or Inanna, or whichever ancient vernal fertility goddess you choose to worship)!!

It's my favorite "movable feast"!
04:12 April 25, 2011 by wenddiver
He is Risen!! He is Risen!!! He is Risen indeed!!! and the Lutheran Churches in America have more than enough Big German, Wendish, Norwegian, Swedish, Estonian, Latvian, Finnish and Danish men to throw you head first down a well if you doubt it. Put that on your rug and bang your head on it parasites.
16:21 April 5, 2012 by mikewhite
Where's that nice picture of the dressed-up kids, for this article ?
20:21 April 5, 2012 by bethrichardson
What a fun tradition! (the kids dressing up, I mean) I've never understood how kids dressing up on Halloween has anything to do with Samhain, but they enjoy it so why fuss? Me, I'm pagan. I celebrate Lughnasadh, Samhain, Yule/ Winter Solstice, Imbolc, Ostara/ Spring Equinox, Beltane, Summer Solstice, and Autumn Equinox. But I also celebrate Christmas and Easter for my kids' sake and Thanksgiving and Independance Day (American holidays). There are also several other minor holidays that we get off from work and it has never offended me to have a day off of work for any reason, regardless of the supposed religious meaning behind it. As Dionysus would say - any reason for a party!
20:30 April 5, 2012 by Thomas VH
We took the kids out "påskkäring" through the neighborhood this evening -- my first time. We were the only ones walking around, though my wife says that in past times, there used to be many children out. Still, every house we visited, we were well-received -- many people were very happy to see us!

Surprisingly, they weren't expecting anyone in this neighborhood! Again, they loved that someone came, but were surprised at the same time. Some houses gave us things like bananas and oranges, others gave large chocolate bars -- whatever they had! One house even offered us a slice of pizza.

Is it the same elsewhere in Sweden? Is this a dying tradition?
22:16 April 5, 2012 by dizzymoe33
Sounds like a fun tradition for the children. Happy Easter!!
07:57 April 8, 2012 by salalah
If you missed the witches at Easter you can take the Blue Line towards Hjulsta... all year around...they ride the Subway every day...and then congregate around Rinkeby Torg to plan their next trip to Blåkulla
08:38 March 28, 2013 by skogsbo
I think this modern version Easter, is just another christian hijacking of more ancient beliefs, they tried to merge them or coincide them. Just like midsummer, midwinter etc.

Salalah - :) I think there are other smaller covens dotted around Sweden too, rarely seen during daylight hours though.
11:20 March 28, 2013 by helun85
Thomas VH: I don't think it's a dying tradition. Normally you go out "påskkärring" during mid day (after lunch some time) at Maundy Thursday, since people only work half-day that day.
14:08 March 28, 2013 by cthulhus_chosen
We don't ever get any påskkärings where we live in Örebro, and my wife (Swedish) has never had the kids dress up for this.

We just go out into a park or into the woods and hide eggs filled with a little candy for them to hunt. No special dinner, no other traditions. I think Easter is probably a forgotten holiday for many Swedes.
16:13 March 29, 2013 by Baroness.Fredericks
Easter is Christian, as far as I know. Is it not?: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter
20:19 March 30, 2013 by skogsbo
No, easter, 99% pagan, rabbits, eggs, crosses, rebirth, all stuff of ancient gods etc. Long before the bible.
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