Tag archives for Påsk

Feather-crazy, bedazzled twigs: The true story behind the Easter Feathers

In the United States, where I’m from, Easter is a pretty child-safe holiday.

You eat chocolate, you paint some eggs, your clothing suddenly becomes pastel, floral napkins mysteriously show up on your table… nothing that would be out of place in your average daycare. The whole thing is quite tame for a holiday based on commemorating the brutal crucifixion of a religious leader 2000-some years ago.

My kind of Easter decorations: slightly saccharine, totally innocuous baby chickens! Photo: Kate Reuterswärd

In Sweden, Easter is similarly tame on the surface. Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll find some pretty scary stuff.

Read more » >>

Happy Easter or Glad Påsk from Sweden! Traditions, food, decorations and more

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.

Blåkulla, Easter witches, and other true stories of an obviously Christian holiday

As an English teacher, I’ve been invited to a number of events and special occasions by students, but never a witches’ coven. Until recently.

One of my Business English students is a middle-aged woman with a forceful personality and an offbeat sense of humor. We meet for three-hour sessions, so by the end of our time together we’re both pretty tired, which is one reason why I didn’t pay much attention when she started talking about witches. I chalked it up to being part of a slightly odd joke being lost in translation. But then she followed up on it with the email below:

Dear Kate,

Time flies and next week I’ll see you in Blåkulla?? Thursday is the big “flying day.” I’ll take my cat, my broomstick and my coffeepot. When I arrive in Blåkulla the party starts! Don’t miss this opportunity to meet other witches.

I started getting a little nervous. Was I supposed to understand last week’s “joke” as a real invitation to a witches’ coven? Does she think she can fly? Can she? And what does a coffeepot have to do with anything???

Long story made short: I didn’t have to get on a broom. But witches are a real phenomenon in Sweden… at least around Easter.

I started asking everyone I met about Blåkulla and the current witch situation there, and I met with a wide variety of responses from the disturbingly well-informed to the absolutely clueless. Most of the time, though, I got a vague description of witches flying to a place called Blåkulla, where they all “hang out” and “do witch stuff.” Those Swedes who actually knew the story told a far more interesting tale.

These cute little Easter witches were for sale in a shop in Gamla Stan in Stockholm. The perfect addition to your bedazzled branch collection! (More information on that later...)

According to legend, the Thursday before Easter (skärtorsdagen in Swedish) is the designated day of the year for all evil witches to fly on their broomsticks to a place called Blåkulla, where they have a wild rumpus, share potion recipes, and take part in a giant orgy with the devil. That’s right, an orgy. Plus all the other typical witchy things. Then they fly back.

Stranger still, the annual witches’ convention at Blåkulla has somehow become part of Swedish Easter traditions. The story of Blåkulla played an important role in Sweden during the second half of the 1600’s when the witch hunts were in full force. People claimed to have seen women flying on their way to exchange the latest tips and tricks for hexing unsuspecting villagers and then those women were usually put to death. Somewhere in between then and now, people thought, “Hey, this is a great activity for the kids to get in on.” And thus the tradition of “påskkärringar,” or “Easter hags,” was begun.

In practice, this means that on the Thursday before Easter,  for no logical reason that I can understand, Swedish children dress up as witches and go door-to-door spreading Easter cheer and receiving candies or small coins in return… a little like Halloween, but without the option of choosing your own costume.

It is also important to note that Swedes have quite a different outlook on what a witch should look like.  Observe.

Some adorable Easter witches ready to hit the streets. Photos l-r: konkret idé & kommunikation/Flickr, familjen benesch/Flickr

I’d call it “babuschka chic.” No pointy hat, no black cape, no warts: these kids just have rosy red cheeks, liberally distributed freckles, and shawls wrapped over their heads.

So there you have it! The perfect pre-Easter celebration. Be careful out there… there are witches afoot!