• Sweden's news in English

Easter in Sweden: when the witches come out to play

The Local · 21 Apr 2011, 08:23

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

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

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.

Story continues below…

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


The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

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.
Today's headlines
Sweden can extend border controls, EU says
A police officer carrying out a check at Sweden's border with Denmark. Photo: Emil Langvad/TT

EU countries including Sweden should be granted permission to extend temporary border controls by a period of a further three months, the European Commission has decided.

Nobel Prizes
'I'd say he's arrogant but I'd be lying': Swedes on Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan performing in France. Photo: David Vincent/AP

Almost two weeks have passed since Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature and he has yet to acknowledge the win. The Local asked Swedes what they think of the singer's silence.

Sweden cuts 2016 refugee forecast by thousands
A Swedish migration authority office in Stockholm. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT

The country has also slashed its prediction for 2017.

Swedish researchers plan new trucks for women drivers
File photo of trucks in Sweden. Photo: Thomas Johansson/TT

Could vehicles adapted for women attract more female truckers to the profession?

These stats show Swedish driving isn't so gender equal
File photo of a Swedish woman driving a car. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

A new survey shows that few Swedish women get behind the wheel when driving with their male partner.

Revealed: Game of Thrones could be coming to Sweden
Game of Thrones cast members at the Emmy Awards in September. Photo: Jordan Strauss/AP

The producers of the hit show have asked for three rounds of location pictures of Swedish island Gotland.

Prime Minister to meet Swedish troops in Iraq
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and his Kurdish counterpart Nechervan Barzani. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Sweden's Prime Minister Löfven is set to meet Swedish troops in Iraq on Tuesday.

Swedish politicians wage war on winter time
Soon it will look like this on your way home from work in Sweden. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

Should Sweden stick with summer time all year round?

'Don't turn the Pope into a global teddy bear'
Sweden's Queen Silvia and Princess Leonore visiting Pope Francis in the Vatican last year. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

It's time to hold the Pope to account and make sure he turns his words about reform into action, argues a minister of the Swedish Church ahead of Pope Francis' visit to Sweden.

Löfven: 'Sweden will double its number of troops in Iraq'
Stefan Löfven and Haider al-Abadi during the visit on Monday. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has promised to double his country's number of troops in Iraq following a meeting with Iraqi counterpart Haider al-Abadi on Monday.

Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Property of the week: Kungsholmen, Stockholm
Sponsored Article
This is Malmö: Football capital of Sweden
The Local Voices
'I simply don’t believe in nationality'
Why we're convinced Game of Thrones is based on Sweden
Blog updates

6 October

10 useful hjälpverb (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hej! I think the so-called “hjalpverb” (auxiliary verbs in English) are a good way to get…" READ »


8 July

Editor’s blog, July 8th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hej readers, It has, as always, been a bizarre, serious and hilarious week in Sweden. You…" READ »

Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
People-watching: October 21st-23rd
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
Fury at plans that 'threaten the IB's survival' in Sweden
Analysis & Opinion
Are we just going to let half the country die?
Angry elk chases Swede up a lamp post
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
The Local Voices
'Alienation in Sweden feels better: I find myself a stranger among scores of aliens'
Sponsored Article
Swedish for programmers: 'It changed my life'
People-watching: October 20th
The Local Voices
A layover at Qatar airport brought this Swedish-Kenyan couple together - now they're heading for marriage
Sponsored Article
Top 7 tips to help you learn Swedish
Swede punches clown that scared his grandmother
Sponsored Article
‘Extremism can't be defeated on the battlefield alone’
Fans throw flares and enter pitch in Swedish football riot
Could Swedish blood test solve 'Making a Murderer'?
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
Property of the week: Linnéstaden, Gothenburg
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
Swedish school to build gender neutral changing room
Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
People-watching: October 14th-16th
Sponsored Article
One expat's strategy for making friends in Stockholm
Man in Sweden assaulted by clowns with broken bottle
Sponsored Article
Nordic fashion in focus at Stockholm University
Nobel Prize 2016: Literature
Watch the man who discovered Bob Dylan react to his Nobel Prize win
Record numbers emigrating from Sweden
People-watching: October 12th
The Local Voices
'Swedish startups should embrace newcomers' talents - there's nothing to fear'
How far right are the Sweden Democrats?
Property of the week: Triangeln, Malmö
Sweden unveils Europe's first elk hut
People-watching: October 7th-9th
The Local Voices
Syria's White Helmets: The Nobel Peace Prize would have meant a lot, but pulling a child from rubble is the greatest reward
jobs available