Saturday, April 7, 2012

Swedish Easter.

Glad Påsk & Happy Easter!

I know for a lot of people Easter is a very import, religious holiday. It is an important holiday for me too, but for other reasons. Lately, I've come across some people seemingly unaware of the fact that Easter is celebrated in different ways in different places, and that it's meaning vary as well. I figured I would share my Easter traditions, to offer a different view on this Easter holiday. Påsk, which is what Easter is called in Sweden, was always one of my favorites as a kid. I haven't lived in Sweden for a decade, but I still love celebrating Påsk, and I guess I always will.

So, what is Swedish Easter?
It's a celebration of Spring, that involves heaps of candy (Swedes LOVE candy, on average 18Kg of candy are consumed per person each year - a large portion of which gets eaten during Påsk celebrations), big bonfires in fields all over the countryside, witches, a variation of trick-or-treat-ing, and a Spring Feast. AND you get time off from school. As a kid, it was AWESOME! As an adult, it is still pretty awesome.

Before Easter week, Swedes decorate their homes for Påsk with large vases filled with Spring branches and twigs, still covered with Spring buds, and colorful feathers are added to the branches. Painted eggs, Videung (pussy willow) branches, and big bouquets of Daffodils are also a must.

A traditional Swedish Påsk ris

According to Swedish folklore, on skärtorsdagen (Maundy Thursday) all the witches in the land would fly across the night sky on their brooms, all converging on Blåkulla (Blue Hill) for their annual Witches' Meeting. So, on this same day, Swedish kids dress up as witches, in aprons, and freckles, and brooms, and walk around the neighborhood knocking on doors, much like Halloween's trick-or-treating here in the US.

Instead of "trick or treat", we would give each person an Easter Letter, a homemade Spring-themed drawing, folded up in a triangle, and in return we would get candy or money. I remember many evenings leading up to Påsk spent sprawled on the family room floor with my friends, drawing little yellow chicks, daffodils, trees with tiny breaking-out leaves, eggs, broom-flying witches, and bunnies. Everything that means Spring.

Swedish Påskbrev from early 1900's
Image Source: Sagomuseet

By Thursday I'd have a big basket full of completed letters. All decked out in my witch's outfit, I'd carry that basket, exchanging letters for candy, until my arm fell off, or the all my letters were gone, which ever came first. Lucky for me, it was always the letters. Either way, we always had such a fun time! As a kid growing up in Sweden, skärtorsdagen was one of the most epic days of the year, and I have very fond childhood memories of this day.

Swedish kids dressed up as Easter Witches
Image Source: Lena Granefelt

As if all of that wasn't enough, the festivities of skärtorsdagen are followed by a Påsk feast on Saturday, which is Påskafton, (the Eve of Easter). Traditionally a smorgåsbord of Spring-themed foods are served, including lots of egg dishes, lamb, and other tasty things, representing the rebirth of the year after the long winter. Everything is washed down with Påskmust (a special soda only available during Easter), Påsköl (Easter beer), snaps, & drinking songs. That evening, to deter the witches from stopping to cause trouble in your neck of the woods on their way home from Blue Hill, large bonfires are lit in the fields all around [some parts of] the country. The firewood for these Påsk fires have been collected for months, and include everything from Christmas trees to branches blown down in winter storms.

Påskbrasa, Swedish Easter fire

In the evening, my family would always go to one of these bonfires nearby. It is cold still in Sweden at that time of year, and dark too. But there were always lots of people around the fire, and someone brought hot cocoa, another brought mugs, and all the children would get to stay up late, running around the fire and the dark fields. It was magical.

On Sunday, we would get our highly anticipated Påskägg, a large paper mache egg, filled with candy (as a Swede, there is no such thing as too much candy). In my family, our eggs would be hidden, usually indoors, but outside as well weather permitting, and we would have to find them, which was very fun. However, this tradition varies, as some of my friends were given their egg sans the hunt. We would then snack on candy & leftover Easter foods all day.

My husband's Påskägg this year.

No matter what your Easter traditions are, I wish you a very Happy Easter.
Glad Påsk, everyone!


  1. I love learning about your Swedish traditions, it is so fascinating to know how others celebrate around the world. Glad Påsk sounds like way more fun than how we celebrate Easter here!

  2. I'm glad you took the time to post this. Fascinating! I love the idea of exchanging a drawing for a treat.

    Glad (belated) Pask to you!