How to Celebrate Easter, the Swedish Way

Påskkärring, påskris, and påskmust! There are many Easter traditions in Sweden that give people a chance to celebrate the arrival of spring. The holiday is regarded as one to spend with family, and for some, it is just as important as Christmas. Read along as we highlight some of the Easter traditions in Sweden, that are central to the holiday and make Easter in Sweden unique.

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Swedish Easter Decorations
In Sweden, Långfredagen (Good Friday) and Påskafton (Holy Saturday) are spent decorating and preparing to welcome the new season. Children and adults will paint påskägg, Easter eggs, and decorate påskris, Easter twigs, with brightly colored feathers to hang in their homes as decorations or gather in baskets as centerpieces. These decorations may also be placed in the garden for the Easter egg hunt. The påskris tradition has a grim history; it comes from the 17th century when people would cut twigs on skärtorsdag to prepare for lashing each other in order to commemorate the suffering of Jesus. This tradition slowly faded away several centuries ago, and was replaced with the decoration of these twigs, turning it into a lovely tradition for families to partake in.

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Easter Witches
On Maudy Thursday, it is tradition in Sweden for children to dress up as påskkärring, Easter witches. The children will dress up in colorful costumes made of old rags, as well as clothes and shawls that are too big, and will paint their faces with big round red cheeks and freckles. The children will carry around a copper kettle going door to door looking for treats. They will knock on people’s doors to wish them a happy Easter, glad påsk, and receive sweets in exchange for a homemade drawing or letter. The tale goes, that this tradition comes from the old superstition that witches would fly to the island of Blåkulla the Sunday before Easter snatching children up along the way to offer to the Devil.

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During Easter, in the Southwestern region, some families will light bonfires to fend off the evil spirits and Easter witches. This is said to have come from the tradition of Swedes lighting bonfires when the witches were coming back from Blåkulla, to scare them away. This has led to the tradition of having fires and fireworks in the days leading up to Easter Sunday in various regions of Sweden.

Påskmust is a Swedish cola drink that is only available around Easter. You may confuse it to be the exact same as a similar cola drink that is available around Christmas in Sweden called Julmust, however, unless you want to start a major discussion, never state that the drink is the same as the Christmas one. It is a statement that can be quite divisive among the Swedes, and you would think you had said something incredibly offensive.

The annual Swedish Easter table is a feast, however, it wasn’t always a feast. Before the industrialization of the 19th century, there wasn’t much fresh produce in Sweden after the long and harsh winter. This resulted in quite simple Easter meals based on pickled and preserved foods, as well as a lot of fish. Today, the Swedish påskbord spread is a variety of delicious dishes with more and more organic and local produce. Gubbröra, a Swedish egg salad with anchovies, and herring are Easter classics that you will commonly find at a påskbord. Other staples include salmon in many varieties as well as Janssons frestelse, a dish made from potatoes and layered with onions and anchovies. Quiche with very mature Västerbotten cheese is another staple that is considered a delicacy. Easter lamb has slowly made it’s way to the påskbord, and cold cuts such as Easter ham have been added since the 1930s. Of course, schnapps and brännvin are staples at the påskbord as well, taken shot style. Påskmust is always to be found at Easter, as well as seasonal Easter beers.

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One can not have Easter without påskägg! Easter eggs are a major part of the holiday in Sweden, especially for children. Some families will organize an Easter egg hunt for the children, however, these are not painted eggs like in the U.S., instead they are often chocolate eggs or small eggs filled with sweets. This holiday is truly fantastic for children; throughout Easter they will receive sweets from the Easter witch tradition, but will also commonly receive hollowed out cardboard Easter eggs filled with sweets from family members. Seems like a great time to be a kid!

Learn more about Scandinavian Culture

>> Scandinavian Concepts for Balanced Living

>> How to Celebrate Midsummer

>> Scandinavia as Your Kitchen

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