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‘Ash fart’, ‘fat pig’ and ‘long lazy’: a guide to Sweden’s Easter insults

The days of the week leading up to Easter not only each have a special name in Swedish, they also have their own special insults. Prepare for Easter week, with the Local's guide.

'Ash fart', 'fat pig' and 'long lazy': a guide to Sweden's Easter insults
Traditional Swedish påskris branches in Helsingborg back in 2012. Photo: Guillaume Baviere/Flickr

The week leading up to Easter is called Stilla veckan, or “silent week”, in Swedish. Other names for this week in Swedish are passionsveckan (“passion week”), and tysta veckan (“quiet week”). The last week of the Lent fast, it stretches from palmsöndagen (Palm Sunday), the Sunday before Easter, to påskafton (Easter Saturday).

For many holidays in Sweden, the main day of celebrations is the day before the actual holiday. Easter is no exception. Swedes don’t celebrate on påskdagen (Easter Sunday). Instead, they get together with family on påskafton, Easter Saturday.

Historically, people in Sweden had most of Easter week off work. This may be one of the reasons behind the daily insults bestowed on the member of the household who took the longest to get out of bed each day. It was an incentive to make sure children (and other lazy family members) didn’t spend too much of the week in bed.

Although the names for each day are fairly consistent across the country, the insults differ somewhat depending on where you are in Sweden. 

Palm Sunday

The Sunday before Easter has the same name in Swedish and English: palmsöndagen. (It takes its name from the palm branches scattered before Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem). In some parts of Sweden, as in the Catholic church, there is a Palm Sunday procession where worshippers walk holding branches from a palm (or other, more easily accessible tree) blessed with holy water by a priest.

If you stay in bed too long on Palm Sunday, you risk being called palmoxen or a ‘palm ox’.

Blue Monday

The day after Palm Sunday is referred to as blåmåndag (blue Monday) or svarta måndag (black Monday). This has nothing to do with the English Blue Monday, which often refers to the third Monday in January, deemed to be the most depressing day of the year.

Fans of ’80s synth-pop may also recognise this term – it’s the title of a single by New Order, a band from Manchester in northern England.

Blue Monday in Sweden originally referred to the Monday before Shrove Tuesday – the first day of Lent, which is most often celebrated nowadays by eating semlor – but has now come to refer to the Monday before Easter instead.

The name may come from the German blauer Montag (blue Monday), which could, in turn, refer to the old southern German tradition of covering cakes in blue cloth during Shrovetide. This time of year was also a period with a lot of public holidays, which meant that Blue Monday eventually came to mean a work-free day.

The alternative term for this day – svarta måndag or ‘black Monday’ – refers to the tradition in some areas of sweeping the chimneys on this day, which obviously produced a large amount of black soot and ashes.

In some areas, you could be called magerås if you stay in bed too long on this day. Magerås is dialectal and is hard to translate into Swedish, let alone English, but can be roughly translated as ‘skinny ridge’. 

White Tuesday

Stilla veckans next day is referred to as vita tisdag or ‘white Tuesday’. Like with Blue Monday, this term was originally used to refer to a different Tuesday – Shrove Tuesday, now more commonly known as fettisdagen. As the last day before Lent, fettisdagen or white Tuesday was a day for indulging on fatty foods such as creamy semlor before starting the 40-day fast leading up to Easter.

Listen to a discussion about this odd Easter tradition on Sweden in Focus, The Local’s podcast. 

Click HERE to listen to Sweden in Focus on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Podcasts.

Although the Tuesday before Easter now referred to as white Tuesday occurs over a month after the original Tuesday it is named after, this idea of eating fatty foods can still be seen in white Tuesday’s insult. Stay in bed too long on this day and you risk being called a fetgris or ‘fat pig’.

‘Dymmel’ Wednesday

The meaning behind the name for Wednesday of stilla veckan is slightly complicated: it dates back to medieval traditions for the Wednesday before Easter.

This day, known as dymmelonsdag was traditionally seen as the first day of påskfriden or ‘Easter peace’, the three days leading up to Easter where the metal clapper or hammer – the bit inside a church bell which makes it ring – was swapped out with a quieter wooden clapper, known as a dymmel. This dymmel stayed in place until Easter Saturday, after which påskfriden was over and the original metal clapper was put back in place.

Another term for stilla veckan is dymmelveckan, named after this wooden clapper.

This isn’t the only way in which påskfriden was marked – other sounds were muffled and as little work as possible was to be carried out. Instead, people were supposed to think about Jesus’ life and regret and repent their sins.

Tasks that involved things that rotated – such as machines with wheels like spinning wheels and millstones – should be especially avoided, as they were seen as contributing to Jesus’ suffering.

This kind of work was referred to as kringgärningar – roughly translated as ‘spinning acts’.

Sleepyheads taking a lie-in on dymmelonsdag are known as dymmeloxar or ‘dymmel oxen’.

You may also hear the insults askfisen (ash fart), or in some areas, askfisken (ash fish) on this day.

Clean Thursday

Christians mark Maundy Thursday – skärtorsdagen in Swedish – as the day when Jesus Christ had his final meal with his disciples and washed each of their feet, an important cleansing ritual that plays a big part in the religion today – ‘maundy’ comes from a word meaning ‘foot-washing’.

Skära means ‘to cut’ in today’s Swedish, but several centuries ago it referred to cleaning or purification, from an older Norse word that meant ‘clean/beautiful/pure’, and that’s where the name of the celebration comes from. Another place you’ll see skär used in this sense is in another religious term, Skärselden, which means Purgatory (the place where, in Christian belief, souls undergo purification before they can ascend to heaven).

According to folklore, Thursday was the day of the week most closely associated with witchcraft and magic.

Maundy Thursday in particular was known as the day when witches would fly off to the mythical Blåkulla to dance with the devil. Swedes would often go so far as hiding their household brooms so they couldn’t be stolen by any witches, and use other methods to stop them entering their homes, such as painting crosses on the door.

Since around the 1800s, it’s been a Swedish tradition for young children to dress up as witches (often with a broomstick, cat and coffee pot as accessories) around the Easter holiday, known as påskkärringar or ‘Easter hags’, and knock on neighbours’ doors to ask for sweet treats.

Those staying in bed too long on clean Thursday risk being called skärklumpen (clean lump).

Long Friday

Good Friday, known as långfredagen or ‘Long Friday’ in Swedish, marks the day of Jesus’ death on the cross. Because of this, it has, historically and religiously, been seen as a day of mourning in Sweden. In the 1800s many dressed in black to mark their sorrow over Jesus’ suffering, and until 1969, there was a nöjesförbud (‘entertainment ban’) on this day.

This entertainment ban meant that shops, restaurants and dance halls were closed, people were expected to be quiet, and unnecessary activities were to be avoided. Food should be simple, or avoided completely in a fast.

Children were not allowed to play and were forced to wear their finest clothes to mark the occasion.

In the Swedish Church, Good Friday services are sombre occasions – the altar is decorated with only five red roses to symbolise the wounds sustained by Jesus on the cross, all fabrics used in the service are black, and no organ music or church bells will be heard.

Those staying in bed too long on Good Friday are referred to as långlaten or ‘long lazy’.

Easter Saturday

In Christian tradition, Easter Saturday – known as påskafton or ‘Easter eve’ – is an ’empty’ day. Jesus lies buried, with his disciples hiding in fear of those who killed him.

The Swedish Church does not hold any services until early evening on Easter Saturday, when Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday is celebrated. Easter or påsk starts officially at midnight.

Despite this, Easter Saturday is the main day for celebrating Easter in Sweden, where Swedes often eat paper easter eggs filled with sweets or surprises, as well as Easter food, often featuring eggs.

The Swedish word for Easter, påsk, may well be recognisable to you if you speak another European language. Unlike in English, but like other Swedish words for festivals, months, and weekdays, it isn’t capitalised. 

It’s a relative of French Pâques, Italian Pasqua, Spanish Pascua, Romanian Paşti, Dutch Pasen and Russian Pascha (Paskha/Пасха), to name a few.

These words all date back to the Greek word Πάσχα (Pascha), which is linked to the Hebrew word Pesach meaning ‘to pass over’. The word pascha was adopted by Latin as the name of the Christian holiday, which became páskar in Old Norse.

Those staying in bed too long on Easter Saturday are known as stumpen (‘stump’) or, in some areas, stäckukotten (‘short and chubby’).

Easter Sunday

Although Easter Sunday is not technically part of stilla veckan, it is still part of the Easter holiday, and one of the most important celebrations in the Christian calendar.

On Easter Sunday, Jesus’ resurrection is celebrated, after his death and burial on Good Friday. In contrast to Good Friday, services in the Swedish Church on this day are more joyful – white textiles are used to symbolise joy, celebration and cleanliness. The altar is decorated with daffodils – called, fittingly, påskliljor or ‘Easter lilies’ in Swedish – and six candles, as a sign for darkness turning into light, and the end of the suffering on Good Friday.

In some churches, worshippers will be given a daffodil on Easter Sunday.

As with the other days in stilla veckan, you should be careful not to be the last one out of bed on Easter Sunday – otherwise, you could be called påsklåskan: “Easter spit”.

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