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Easter in Sweden: when the witches come out to play

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Easter in Sweden: when the witches come out to play
08:23 CEST+02:00
Brightly coloured 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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