Easter in Sweden comes in many shapes and forms. But there's no getting around the eggs (or the witches).
To some, Easter in Sweden is closely associated with its religious origin, with churches across the country welcoming people to observe Easter over several days.
To others, Easter is first and foremost a chance to get together with family, relatives and loved ones over traditional food, such as cured salmon, herring, eggs and roast lamb.
Easter in Sweden – the origins
In Sweden, the Easter celebrations used to begin with the three days of Shrovetide, full of carnivals, games and revelry. Activities included playfully thrashing each other with birch twigs and tobogganing down steep slopes. People were also supposed to mark Shrove Tuesday by eating seven hearty meals before observing a 40-day fast.
On Easter Saturday, the celebrations turned joyful, and people began eating eggs again. Eggs were sometimes painted in different colours, probably because they were often given away as presents. In the 1800s, Swedes began filling paper eggs with sweets. In western Sweden, the practice was to light bonfires, fire shotguns and shout to scare away witches. The bonfire tradition still lives on in the west of the country. The custom of bringing birch twigs into the house and decorating them with coloured feathers dates back to the 1880s.
Easter is one of the principal holidays, or feasts, of Christianity and marks the resurrection of Christ. It begins on Palm Sunday in celebration of Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem. In the old days, you were not allowed to spin or chop wood on Maundy Thursday, as this might intensify Christ’s suffering. Good Friday commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus. It used to be a quiet day in Swedish tradition, spent in silent contemplation. People dressed in black and ate salty food without anything to drink. Easter Sunday celebrates the resurrection of Jesus.
Many people used to believe in the old legend that on Maundy Thursday the witches flew off to consort with the Devil on Mount Blåkulla. Nowadays, children dress up as Easter witches; clad in discarded clothes, gaily coloured headscarves and red-painted cheeks, they go from house to house in the neighbourhood and present the occupants with paintings and drawings in the hope of getting sweets in return.
Having consumed all these sweets, they are then given Easter eggs filled with yet more. Parents who are more ambitious let the children search for the eggs themselves in a treasure hunt − following clues and solving riddles until they find their prizes.
Meals during Easter in Sweden
A traditional Easter lunch is likely to consist of different varieties of pickled herring, gravlax and Jansson’s Temptation (potato, onion and pickled anchovies baked in cream). Eggs are a favourite accompaniment to the dish of pickled herring that is the centrepiece of most Swedes’ Easter meals.
The table is often laid like a traditional smorgasbord (or smörgåsbord as it’s written in Swedish), and decorated with birch twigs − nowadays decorated with brightly coloured feathers (and nowadays, only few associate the birch twigs with the suffering of Christ). Spiced schnapps is also a feature of the Easter table.
For dinner, many people eat roast lamb with potato gratin and asparagus, or some other suitable side dish.