Easter the Swedish way!
Happy Easter! Or, “Glad Påsk!” as the Swedes say. In today’s post, we are going to dive into the different ways that Swedes celebrate Easter!
Like in the US, candy is a big part of the Swedish Easter (påsk) celebration. And this shouldn’t come as a big surprise since you already know that Swedes love their godis! And, like in the US, Easter eggs are the traditional delivery method of Easter candies.
But unlike in the US, Swedes opt for a single large egg instead of many small eggs. This påskägg (Easter egg) is stuffed with candies. In the US, we often only put a single candy or two in each egg and I personally feel that the US candies are of poor quality (you know, those foil-wrapped “chocolate” eggs that kind of taste like chalk?).
In contrast, the Swedish Easter eggs have such a wide variety of candies inside! Gelatin ones, gourmet chocolate-dipped caramels, and, of course, some licorice flavored candies (read more on why Swedes love licorice here!). But everyone’s candy preferences are different and after opening the påskägg there is always a debate around if the packer did a good job selecting the candies for the egg.
But I can tell you one way in which US Easter eggs might be superior — they often contain money! Some change or small bills are a common thing to find during a US Easter egg hunt! As a kid, the first thing I would do when finding an egg on a hunt was give it a shake. There are distinctly different rattles for candies and coins, but the best was the hollow silence that indicated the egg I had just found contained a coveted dollar bill.
And Easter eggs aren’t just for kids in Sweden! Here, adults also get one of the large eggs, often from their employer! It is such a nice tradition to go into the office the week before Easter and find a giant egg sitting on your desk.
Since Swedes opt for a large single egg, Easter egg hunts (påskjakt) aren’t as common in Sweden as they are in the US. But families that do organize egg hunts make them more of a treasure hunt! The children follow clues and solve riddles to find their eggs.
Dying and decorating Easter eggs is also a tradition here, although not as widely practiced as in the US. This is one of my personal favorite Easter traditions and something I have continued to do in Sweden. In fact, I am actually hosting a virtual Easter egg decorating party with my coworkers this year!
In the US, it is common to see someone dressed as an Easter bunny. But Sweden has instead Easter witches (påskkärringar)! Like in the image above, children dress in grandma’s apron, wear headscarves, and paint their cheeks red! They then go around to neighbors with their Easter basket handing out Easter drawings and asking for sweets — much like we do in the US for Halloween.
It is a tradition that dates back to the 1500s when it was thought that witches flew over Sweden to meet the devil on Blåkulla mountain annually on skärtorsdagen, Maundy Thursday. Bonfires are used to keep the witches away and this tradition has extended to Valborg, when Swedes light giant bonfires on April 30th to welcome spring.
The most common Easter decoration in Sweden is the påskris, birch twigs decorated with brightly colored feathers. This tradition has religious origins and represents the suffering of Christ. The påskris (which directly translates to “Easter rice”) dates back to the 1600s and the tradition of fastlagsris, where birch sticks were used by the patriarch of the family to whip family members on Shrove Tuesday and Good Friday, reminding them of Christ’s suffering. Luckily the tradition has become less abusive over time. In the 1700s children started to decorate the sticks with colored rice, ribbons, and paper flowers. And in the mid-1800s the feathered påskris of today were born.
And what is a holiday without some food?! The påskbord (Easter table) is much like the julbord (Christmas table). You will find sill (pickled herring), cured salmon, and Jansson’s Temptation (potato, onion, and pickled anchovies baked in cream). Or perhaps roast lamb with potato gratin and asparagus. Or meatballs. And, of course, hard-boiled eggs. The table is often laid like a traditional smörgåsbord.
And the drink of choice is spiced schnapps (snaps). Like any Swedish fest (party), you’ll find a nubbe or two of aquavit around the table. Children will drink påskmust, a Coca-Cola knockoff that is produced specifically for holidays.
- The long Easter weekend typically marks the first return to a Swedish family’s summer cabin! Be sure to plan some time to give it a good dusting and airing out, as it has been shut up all winter!
- As with other traditionally religious holidays, Easter too has become a secular holiday in Sweden. While some go to church, most celebrate it at home with family or friends.
- Easter in Sweden is typically celebrated on the eve (afton) before Easter Sunday. So here, Saturday takes the prime spot. This is the same as Christmas in Sweden, where celebrations take place on julafton (Christmas eve).
- The word “påsk” comes from the Hebrew word “pesah”, meaning passing.
- My favorite way to celebrate påsk in Sweden is to rent a cabin for the weekend and go away with friends. We’ve done this twice now with our closest Swedish friends and it has been one of the highlights of our year. There is nothing like getting out into the countryside, eating good food, enjoying great company, and welcoming the first signs of Spring!
- The Friday before Easter and the Monday after are both considered “red days” in Sweden. Be sure to enjoy these free days off work!
Hope you learned some new Swedishness today and I’ll see you in the next post!