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Kids in Victorian garb mark Swedish Easter
A Swedish Easter witch holding daffodils. File photo: TT

Kids in Victorian garb mark Swedish Easter

Published: 17 Apr 2014 13:07 GMT+02:00
Updated: 17 Apr 2014 13:07 GMT+02:00

This time last year, I stepped outside to find that my neighbour had stuck colourful feathers all over the shrubs outside our house. I was confused and amused. Was it for someone's birthday celebrations? Not at all, it seems, as I later found it to be an Easter ritual.

This was new to me. And it was only the start, as Swedes take Easter seriously. At home in India, we do get Good Friday off, but it doesn't compare to the Swedes' long weekend off.​ Back then, Easter for me meant the crowds filing into Catholic churches across Delhi. The feathers were the first clue that Easter here would be a completely different experience.

So how do Swedes mark the crucifixion of Jesus Christ? 

School boy Avya tells me that the pupils had an egg hunt competition. The children trawled through a muddy field to find the Easter egg. It made me wish that I could have taken part - a clumsy sprint under clear blue skies to find an egg hiding behind a bush, or tucked in the reeds.

The egg, I later found out from the Church of Sweden website, represents Jesus' resurrection - the shell is the grave he has to break out through. Nowadays, Swedes just eat and eat eggs. Not only real ones, but cardboard eggs of all sizes and in all colours are up for sale. Some pre-filled with chocolate and some huge ones that you can fill to the brim with candies. Oh goodness! I am so tempted. Adults give the eggs to the kids, mostly, but everyone seem to be tucking in. And Swedes boil real eggs, handing them over to their children to decorate with crayons and pens. 

And while on the topic of kids... from nowhere, I spotted children dressed like Victorian women with headscarves. But their cheeks were painted red, and the bridge of their noses dotted in fake freckles, and very catchy too. No, this was not Queen Victoria wannabes sprinting around Stockholm, nope. I learned the kids were actually dressed up as Easter witches. 

What on earth is an Easter witch? My mind just got twisted. I couldn't remember ever hearing that the bible mentions witches... hmm... 

And that's where the sprinkle of paganism came into the picture. In old Nordic folklore, the witches travel to Blåkulla or “Blue Hill” this time of year to meet the devil. But now a new tradition has sprung out from the old folklore, which ​for an outsider looks like 'mini Halloween'. 

​Children dressed up like witches  go house to house, giving their drawings and paintings to people and in return receive sweets. ​When this was explained to me, it reminded me of our very own festival of lights, Diwali, where children are stuffed with confectionary!

That was nostalgic, but back to Easter. 

As I asked more questions, I found out about the bonfires and fireworks. These were apparently related to the myth of the commuting witches. The fire would keep them away. It's not hard to imagine, actually. This time of year, as dusk moves into night, the skies are a dark indigo. As Swedes crowd around the bonfire, stretching their hands to the flames to keep warm in the spring chill, you could imagine the witches flying past on their broomsticks. 

And I thought only Indians had ghost or witch myths.

There is another thing that the run-up to Easter here has in common with India - the colours. Everywhere I go during this month, what I see is colour. And, for me this is shocking as from decor to dresses, I haven't see much colour in Stockholm. Houses, furniture, the weather - all dark and grey.

But right now, colourful feathers and eggs are on display everywhere. When the sunshine hits feathers tied to birch twigs, it gives such a picturesque view of Stockholm streets. 

So apart from dressing in witch garb and eating a lot of sweets, what do the Swedes do? My friends told me that most people celebrate with their families. Eggs again feature on the menu, served hard-boiled alongside popular dish Jansson’s Temptation (creamy potato gratin with anchovies). Pickled herring and cured salmon are also on the lunch menu. 

Dinner usually comprises roast lamb with potato gratin and asparagus. This all is so mouth-watering.

With so much colour and sunshine on the streets, I can't wait to be a part of a Swedish Easter celebration. We're off to the countryside to celebrate. How about you? Happy Easter!! 

Deepti Vashisht

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

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