Aside from having a crazy past week, this week has brought much needed sunshine, warm weather, and spring spirits.
I was surprised to see trees on campus decorated with brightly colored feathers, and asked one of my classmates “did a parrot explode in that tree?”. I quickly discovered that the traditional easter decorations in Sweden are much different than in the United States. While the holiday entitled Easter is still very celebrated in this region, the traditions, food, and decorations are very different from what I, and many Americans, know as Easter. Swedes celebrate Easter religiously, but religion has little to do with it. It’s more about witches, egg hunts, colored feathers and salmon!
In Sweden, I discovered that only a few of the Easter traditions I was used to are simliar, like egg painting and candy, but typically Easter here is more similar to an American Halloween. Children dress up as Easter witches with long skirts, colorful headscarves and painted red cheeks, and go from house to house in their neighborhoods, presenting the occupants with paintings and drawings in the hope of getting sweets in return. I discovered that in Swedish folklore, Easter is the time when the witches fly to Blåkulla (the Blue Mountain) to meet the devil. I immediately recalled the Night on Bald Mountain scene from one of my favorite movies Fantasia. This also answered my questions about the small branches and twigs of willow or birch that I was seeing around the Swedish houses, stores, and even on campus – common during the Eater holidays. Påskris are the feathers and other small decorations that are typically placed on and in a vase. Apparently påskris date back to the centuries; some say their purpose is to hasten spring, but during my research I discovered that they had less than jolly implications… Bound by birch twigs, the påskris was used in the 17th century for Long Friday’s flagellation.
In Sweden, a traditional meal on Holy Saturday is a smörgåsbord (commonly called a ‘Swedish Table’) of pickled herring, cooked and cured salmon, Jansson’s Temptation (potato, onion and anchovies in cream), lamb, and eggs. Easter Saturday is also time for treasure hunts to find painted boiled eggs, chocolate eggs and other sweets. This is typical of the Easter’s I experienced as a child in the United states, down to the sweets being in the shape of traditional spring symbols like rabbits and chickens. I was pleasantly surprised to find that in Sweden, the sweets are usually carried in large decorated cardboard eggs which are reused the next year, instead of baskets. Good thing I found this out before mistakenly buying a cardboard egg at the grocery store, only to later discover that they are not chocolate – this would explain why they are so cheap. I will admit, I was almost fooled! The Easter egg itself, påskägget, is very important to Swedish children since Swedes don’t have an Easter Bunny in their celebration. I couldn’t help but laugh to myself while writing this blog, as I reminisced about my childhood Easters; my favorite memory being when my parents used to barricade our living room to keep my childhood dog out during Easter telling me it was so that Gretchen (my best friend and beloved pet) would not attack the Easter bunny – I later discovered that it was actually to prevent her from attacking our Easter baskets filled with sweets!
Finally the flowers and trees are in bloom, spring is here, the snow is gone (with NO chance of returning – sorry Houghton!), and campus is alive again with the sprit of spring, and Easter.
“Easter” in Swedish is Påsk, and comes from the Hebrew word “pesah” meaning passing. Glad påsk! Happy Easter!