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Witches and herring: Seven traditions that reveal it's Easter in Sweden

The Local Sweden
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Witches and herring: Seven traditions that reveal it's Easter in Sweden
A pair of Swedish Easter witches. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

Happy Easter, that time of year when the witches go to dance with the devil... wait, what? Yes, Swedish Easter traditions are a little different from what you may find elsewhere.


1. Witches 

For the majority, Easter (påsk) is a secular event in Sweden and the fact that many children dress up as witches gives a clear indication that the origins of the spring festival predate Christianity. Folklore alleges that witches flew off on broomsticks to dance with the devil at a legendary meadow named Blåkulla ("blue hill"), which Swedish parents are completely unfazed about their children re-enacting.

On Maundy Thursday (skärtorsdag), you'll spot kids with painted faces and broomsticks. Some knock on doors asking for treats, much like American children do at Halloween.


2. Fake paper eggs in supermarkets

Whereas some countries have chocolate eggs over Easter, in Sweden you don't eat the Easter egg itself, but instead it's usually a beautifully painted paper shells crammed with candy goodies (påskägg). Many schools and families organise Easter egg hunts, giving children clues and riddles to help them track the sweets down.

3. Real eggs everywhere

Swedes are big dairy consumers most of the year but eggs are a breakfast staple over Easter as well as featuring on many a midday smörgåsbord or påskbord (Easter buffet table) with toppings including caviar and and shrimp-based sauces.


4. Fish, pickled

Eggs often complement the pickled herring which is at the heart of most Swedes' Easter meals, while others opt for salmon or dill. Another popular dish is Janssons Frestelse which translates to "Jansson's Temptation". It is a creamy casserole including potatoes, onions and sprats. All this will frequently be washed down by a glass (or three) of Swedish snaps. 

In case you were wondering, yes, this is exactly what Swedes eat at Christmas as well. And Midsummer. If it ain't broke, why fix it?

5. Summer houses

Easter is the first long weekend of the year and for many city dwellers it provides an excuse to enjoy the country's famous nature.

Summer holiday cottages are not just the preserve of the rich in Scandinavia, so plenty of people escape their urban apartments and join relatives for some respite in the forest or by the coast.

6. Feathered twigs

If you're invited to a Swedish lunch at a summer house or elsewhere, you might be wondering why on earth there are vases filled with bunches of twigs covered in feathers (påskris).

Swedes have been decorating small birch tree branches like this since the 1800s. These originally served as a reminder of Christ's suffering and children would pretend to lash each other with them on Good Friday. Nowadays the feathers are brightly coloured and tend to remain on the table.

This tradition appears to be declining for animal rights' reasons, including the difficulty in finding suppliers that can guarantee feathers are not taken from living animals. Many Swedes now use artificial feathers instead.

7. Påskmust

Påskmust is like a sweet, spicy root beer containing hops, sugar, malt aroma and spices, and no alcohol. It's an essential component of any Easter-time meal.

It is the Easter version of julmust, the Christmas drink that far outsells Coca Cola every December. Every year Swedes debate whether the two beverages taste the same (they do).


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