In England, we celebrate Easter with bunny rabbits and chocolate eggs. In Sweden, they associate Easter with birch twigs, gaily-coloured feathers and … er… witches! Oh – and eggs: but not chocolate ones. Swedes eat real eggs – lots of them – as Easter is an egg-cellent season for the consumption of white and yellow spherical objects. It marks the time when people used to fast and then broke their fasts by eating eggs, which had been forbidden during Lent.
Apart from eating eggs, they give each other paper eggs that are filled with sweets and marizpan chicks. We usually have a big Easter egg hunt where we hide masses of small chocolate eggs in the woods for the local kids to find: but this is our tradition and not really a Swedish one.
Superstitions always attach themselves to major religious holidays, don’t they? And Easter is no exception. In ye olde days, Swedes believed that covens of witches flew away to Blåkulla (Blue Mountain) on their broomsticks on Maundy Thursday in order to cavort with the Devil. Which is why – nowadays – young boys and girls dress up as Easter witches and come knocking on the door in a sort of trick-or-treat manner. They give you home-made Easter cards and in return, you give them something good to eat.
Whoever said that trick-or-treating was only for Halloween?
Apart from being surprised by witches knocking on the door when I first came to Sweden, I was also confused by all the birch twigs that people decorated their homes with – usually tying lots of brightly-coloured feathers to the twigs, or to the trees and bushes in their gardens. The burst of colour seems to reflect the joy of spring and the relief that winter is (nearly) over.
This is a throwback from more religious times when young people used to lash each other with birch twigs on Easter Friday as a reminder of Christ’s sufferings. Decorating twigs with feathers dates back to the 19th century and was a way of ushering in the spring.
So, whether you are going to celebrate with twigs, church or a dusterful of feathers, have a happy Easter!
And now.. please excuse me! I’ve got a bunch of witches at the front door…