Easter in Sweden isn't all chocolate eggs and sweets. There's also witches.
Letter from Sweden by Gary (not Alistair) Cook
Letter dated 17 April 2021
Easter in Sweden is a bit different to what I’m used to. Okay, there’s the chocolate eggs, bunnies and yellow chicks but, then there’s also the Easter rooster. And, of course, there’s witches.
In largely not religious, Sweden, Easter was traditionally the time when the witches gathered on the island of Blockula. The island belongs to the Devil who has a yearly feast and invites all the witches. The only way to get to Blockula is by a magical flight. I guess that’s to keep the muggles out.
Actually, in order to prevent the witches from travelling to Blokula, in the 18th century, farmers would regularly nail shut the barn doors to prevent them stealing the horses and making them fly. I assume they burned all their brooms.
Prevention aside, the witches would leave on Maundy Thursday and return on Easter Sunday, presumably a little worse for wear. Of course, these days, the witches are actually normal, Swedish children dressed up as they roam the streets on Easter Sunday swapping paintings and drawings for sweets. Sort of like American Halloween but without the threat of a trick. Or the visual gore fest.
The other thing about Easter is the desire to emulate Christ’s suffering. In the past, people would eat nothing but salty food on Good Friday and drink nothing at all. They would also beat themselves and each other with birch twigs.
The salty Friday thing stopped ages ago and, while there may still be people who whip themselves, mostly, these days, the birch twigs are decorated with brightly coloured feathers. This has been going on since the 1880’s.
I did wonder about the buckets full of these odd things when I saw them outside supermarkets and florists in my local shopping centre. Not to mention the countless trees decorated far and wide. And not just birch. Or feathers. At a café where we regularly have Sunday brunch, they had decorated a rather scrawny looking leafless bush with brightly coloured bits of gauzy material. Perhaps it’s in preparation for the flowers to come.
My favourite glimpse of Easter though has to be three witches on a roundabout. They were made of birch twigs and stuffed heads with radiant smiling faces drawn on them. Each one had a brightly coloured scarf and birch broom with ribbons entwined in it. There was also a basket full of brightly painted eggs.
Because eggs are a big thing here in Sweden. And not just chocolate. In fact, I didn’t see a lot of chocolate eggs in the lead up unlike in the UK when eggs start to appear on January 10. Here, they paint boiled eggs which were once given as gifts but are now just eaten.
Like Christmas, families gather for a feast of various smorgasbord dishes, but the Easter one, or Påsk bord, is dominated by eggs. There’s eggs with caviar, eggs with mayonnaise, eggs with shrimp, just plain old eggs with more eggs. They love the eggs at Easter. And, unlike the UK, it’s not because they are breaking the fast of Lent. No, they just love eggs.
Of course, the other very important thing about Easter is it spells the end of the semla season. Konditori and cafes alike which were overflowing with semla buns on the Wednesday before Maundy Thursday are suddenly devoid of them. Given the way the Swedes love the semla so much, I figure there was probably quite a run on them during the final week. Then it’s the big wait for next Fat Tuesday when the semla starts all over again and we approach another Easter.
Until next time