SHARE
COPY LINK

EASTER

Seven traditions that reveal it’s Easter in Sweden

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.

Seven traditions that reveal it's Easter in Sweden
This photo shows three Swedish Easter traditions. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT
In 2021, Easter will look a little different from usual as everyone should limit socialising under national measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus, and some of the activities below would need to be adapted.
 
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.
 

Children dressed up as witches in Sweden. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT
 

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 organize Easter egg hunts, giving children clues and riddles to help them track the sweets down.
 

“Can I interest you in this fine Easter egg, sir?” Photo: Bertil Ericson/TT
 
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.
 

A Swedish Easter breakfast. Photo: Noella Johansson/TT
 
4. Fish, pickled
 
Eggs often complement the pickled herring that 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 anchovies. 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?
 

Pickled herring. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT
 

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.
 

A summer house in the Stockholm archipelago. Photo: Hasse Holmberg/TT
 
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.
 

Feathers at Easter. Photo: Lena Granefelt: Image Bank Sweden
 
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).


Julmust, no wait, påskmust. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

LIVING IN SWEDEN

IN DATA: Why you’re not alone if you feel lonely in Sweden

It's not much consolation if you're a foreigner struggling to make friends, but you are not alone. According to official statistics, foreigners in Sweden feel lonelier and report fewer close friendships than Swedes. The Local's intern Rita Cruz carried out an open survey to learn more.

IN DATA: Why you're not alone if you feel lonely in Sweden

You arrive in Sweden to work, study, or start a life with your partner. You join five or six international groups on Facebook, you are friendly to your neighbours, and take fika with your classmates and colleagues. You start collective activities and hobbies, you take Swedish lessons, you put yourself out there. But it seems you can only connect with other foreigners – why can’t you get through to Swedes? Is it in your head or is there some truth to it?

It’s an old debate, expat online forums and social media groups go through it over and over again, and researchers have been discussing it for decades. By now, Sweden’s cold, unfriendly reputation seems to be irreversible.

We asked The Local’s readers for their insight and they said it was indeed very hard to make friends in Sweden – with Swedes, that is. Looking at the issue with a scientific eye, data from Statistics Sweden (SCB), Sweden’s official statistics agency, shows that foreigners report feeling lonelier and having a harder time making friends.

While there may be many straightforward answers, like a feeling of not belonging to a new society, negative experiences while seeking housing or employment, or just a language barrier, a lot points out to cultural aspects.

Is it a matter of culture?

The Expat Insider Survey, organised by the expat networking organisation Internations, constantly ranks Sweden as one of the unfriendliest countries for international residents. When looking at topics like how easy it is to settle in, how welcome society is, how friendly the locals are and how easy it is to make friends, Swedish culture seems to be the root of the problem.

In 2022, Mexico dominated in all categories of friendliness and openness, and countries like Brazil, Portugal and Spain, or Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand all make an appearance in the top 10, while the Nordics are completely absent. Are Latin American or Southeast Asia countries culturally more open and welcoming? 

For decades, academics have discussed what constitutes Swedish culture and how that can be seen as an obstacle by foreigners. Åke Daun, a professor at Stockholm University, has produced the most well-known research. He found that a clear separation of the private and public spheres was puzzling to non-Swedes.

“Swedes find it completely natural not to socialise privately with colleagues even if they have worked together for years. This doesn't conflict with the fact that many Swedes actually count those with whom they work as among their closest friends”, he wrote in the 1980s.

Since most internationals’ contact with Swedes is at work, it makes it hard for them to make Swedish friends.

“Even Swedes can - to the surprise of many foreign observers - work side by side for years without ever having been to each other’s homes,” Daun wrote. 

In many countries, it is perfectly normal, and even expected, that after a few years working alongside someone whom you’ve come to consider your friend, you would meet them for coffee or invite them to your home. 

This public/private divide extends to other areas, such as public displays of emotion, which translate in the way people communicate, making them come across as cold and distant.

“I have found that, culturally, Swedes take a while to let people in. This, in a way, can make it hard to make friends initially. However, once they get to know you they are incredibly kind and loyal friends”, says Madeline Robson, 31, who’s been living in Sweden for three years.

She recognises that Swedish culture requires more time and effort when trying to connect with people.

This seems to be an experience shared by those who answered The Local’s survey: 40 percent say they have not befriended any Swedes, while almost 30 percent say that it took them a year or more to make a Swedish friend. 

More recently, researchers Bengt Brülde and Filip Fors dove deep into the question of Swedish individualism and set out to debunk the myth of the lonely Swede. They concluded that Swedes actually do better than most Europeans when it comes to the numbers and quality of their friendships.

“A possible explanation for this is that Swedish individualism makes it easier to choose one's own company, and that this leads to more and better friendships,” they concluded. 

This means Swedes feel freer not to spend time with people they don’t want in their lives, making friendship a bigger commitment to those they actually let in.

Before moving from her native Canada to join her Swedish partner, Madeline Robson had already had a certain image of Swedes painted for her.

“I was told Swedish people were hard to get to know and that I likely wouldn’t have Swedish friends," she says. 

Eager to build a community she could lean on, Madeline thought the best way to achieve that would be to connect with other internationals, with whom she had common experiences.

Like many other newly arrived people, she actively worked on building new friendships, and her community slowly started to shape up. In that journey, she found that her own insecurities were the bigger obstacle.

“I didn’t know the language or understand the nuances of the culture. I felt like I was a burden for making people accommodate me, even though everyone spoke English and didn’t mind. So at first, I had a hard time opening up to people. But after a while I learned that the more I opened up, the more people were willing to get to know me. And that’s when things started to get a lot easier and it felt more natural to make friends.” 

“When you live abroad, everything can feel like it requires extra effort to fit in”, Madeline concludes.

On her Instagram and TikTok she shares her experience of life as a foreigner in Sweden and gets lots of questions on how to make Swedish friends.

There is no formula – and that’s also not the point, she says. “I always say that that shouldn’t be the goal. The goal should be to connect with others who make you feel good about yourself, who support you, and who you share interests with. Go on friendship dates, join in on community events, attend meet-ups. It’s ultimately about putting yourself out there”. 

SHOW COMMENTS