The signs of the season were everywhere: babuschka-like Easter witches, feather-bedazzled branches, a haunting and eerie emptiness on grocery store shelves previously occupied by jars of pickled herring… Easter season had arrived in Sweden, and it would be a long four day weekend before our lives could return to normal.
Truth be told, I was kind of surprised by the scope of the Easter festivities in Sweden, given that none of the Swedes I’ve met in my time here have seemed particularly religious. I always thought of Christmas as the secularized holiday of choice, not Easter, but Sweden has its own traditions that seem equally influenced by Christian tradition, pre-Christian folklore, and generalized Thank everything holy it’s not winter anymore sentiments (aka vårkänsla).
Swedish Easter activities: take a walk or picnic in the woods, paint eggs, hunt for eggs.
Here’s a rough recipe for a Swedish Easter celebration, based on my empirical observations of the weekend:
1 part Easter witch, 2 parts decorated branches;
2 parts fish, 1 part potatoes;
3 parts eggs, 1 part asparagus;
3 parts pickled herring, 2 parts chocolate (preferably in egg form), 1 part cake.
Season to taste with dill, mayonnaise, bread, and cheese. Pair with Easter egg hunting, outdoor picnics, and walking in the forest (weather permitting).
I got intrigued by news reports that Easter is the week in which the most food is bought in Sweden given all the attention paid to the pre-Christmas Julbord feast, so I started to investigate. According to a report by Tasteline.com (a Swedish food and drink website), Easter is not quite the biggest food-shopping week of the year, but it is up there. (The biggest was the week of Christmas.) Egg, pickled herring, and salmon were considered the most important foods to have for an Easter celebration, followed by lamb, a potatoes and anchovy dish called Janssons frestelse, and meatballs. Our Easter lunch had all of the first three dishes and none of the second three, so I guess we had a pretty traditional meal. We also ate something called “gubbröra,” which was anchovies and boiled eggs mixed together with some spices (probably dill) and eaten bruschetta-style on toast, asparagus, boiled potatoes, and a salad.
Parts of our Easter feast: salmon, hard-boiled eggs, and gubbröra!
One common element of a Swedish Easter that didn’t make it to our table was the snaps—shots of schnapps, vodka, aquavit, or other strong liquor. When I was asking my Swedish friends why Easter was celebrated on Saturday instead of Sunday, one of them suggested that a buffer zone was needed between the celebration and the workweek for everyone to have a hangover from drinking so much. This theory is still unconfirmed… for now. According to the same Tasteline report as before, the Thursday before Easter is the third-most visited day for the state-owned liquor store, so draw from that what you will.
Besides the food, there’s something worth mentioning: the Easter decorations.
I would like to know who thought that gluing feathers to branches was a good idea.
I mean, seriously. Did you think you were improving the branch? Because you weren’t. These feather-branch-things just might be the silliest holiday decoration I’ve ever seen, and I’m from the United States. Why? Why? WHY? I do not understand.
When my friend Katie and I were touring around Sweden, we were constantly speculating as to what the original thought could be. What we settled on (Katie’s idea) was this: since people eat so many eggs at Easter, this is a warning from chickens in the know that EVIL INTRUDERS are coming to take away your unborn babies and EAT THEM. Beware the Easter time massacre! Hide your hens, hide your eggs, because they’re taking all the eggs out there. (Alternate explanations welcome.)
This is just a small sample of the feather-bedazzling that was going on throughout the whole country.
As I tried to roll myself home after dinner, I realized that I had just as many questions remaining as I had answers. Why do Swedes celebrate Easter a day early? What’s up with the mutilated branches? Had everyone continued to refill my plate in a desperate attempt to keep me from asking more questions? I may never know.