Glad påsk – Happy Easter

In southern Sweden Easter is a welcoming of spring whereas in northern Sweden it’s still winter. But throughout Sweden Påsk (pohsk) means even more time off than at Christmas since the Friday preceding Easter Sunday and the Monday after are both official holidays. In addition, many people only work a half day on Thursday so for most people it’s a lovely long weekend.

As in many countries eggs play a big role on Easter Sunday because they were not allowed during the 40 days of fasting during Lent. The first painted Easter eggs are recorded in southern Sweden during the 1700s. In many European countries egg decorating rose to a high art form. In Sweden it was typical to wrap eggs in birch leaves before cooking them to leave a subtle pattern on the shell. By the end of the 1700s glass and porcelain eggs arose and during the 1800s paper-mache eggs with peep holes. Far north they would often have to wait until May for the arrival of fresh eggs which meant eggs with candy could play a starring role. Today kids often paint easter eggs and instead of Easter baskets most children wake up to find a large egg filled with candy. They range from clear plastic eggs to various decorated cardboard eggs. The Easter bunny doesn’t play a big role in Sweden and is a relatively late arrival from Germany at the end of the 1800s. Mainly the Easter bunny is responsible for hiding eggs for an Easter hunt, if he does anything at all.

Daffodils, or påskliljor (Easter lilies), are the common flower for Easter in Sweden and yellow plays a big role in decorations due to its connection to eggs which symbolize life and the yellow chicks that emerge if the eggs are not destined for the dinner table. Some of the common Easter foods include pickled herring, janssons frestelse (a potato dish with anchovies and onions), salmon, and of course eggs. Today lamb is often served on Easter day but that is a modern occurence thanks to refrigeration and freezing techniques. Before these modern inventions lamb wasn’t available at Easter time in Sweden because they hadn’t been born yet. And although there is always the talk of Swedish aquavit (snaps) predominating the drinking portion of the meal, I would argue that more påskmust is consumed. I swear it’s the leftover stuff from the Christmas julmust that has just been returned to the factory and relabeled for Easter. It’s essentially a cross between coca-cola and Dr. Pepper. Count me out.

Two Swedish traditions that are entirely foreign to me are the påskris and påskkärringar. Påskris (also known as fastlagsris) are birch branches decorated with feathers wired to the ends. As far back as the 1600s birch branches were used to playfully whip family members in remembrance of Christ’s suffering. The feathers didn’t come into play until the mid 1800s and weren’t common throughout the country until the 1930s. Today they are omnipresent and you find them decorating homes as well as shops. If you buy the branches in advance of Easter and put them in a vase with water they should begin to leaf by the time Easter arrives. That said, I have yet to have any of my branches sprout green though I’ve faithfully stuck them in water every year. The most spectacular påskrisar I’ve seen were in Helsingborg this year. They had massive amounts of feathers wired to multiple pots of birch branches making for a rather stunning effect.

The other tradition that I didn’t grow up with is påskkärringar or häxor (Easter hags or witches). This stems from the witch hunts in Europe from the 15th -18th century when untold numbers of people were accused of and executed for being witches. There is a longstanding Swedish folklore that on Maundy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter known as skärtorsdagen) all of the witches would fly to Blåkulla for an orgy with the devil that lasted until Easter Eve. It’s not entirely clear how that morphed into little kids dressing up like old hags and going door to door for candy or coins, but that’s where it ended up. And even though they are called Easter hags, of course those kids end up looking pretty darn cute.

Pictures of påskkärringar from http://nara.allehanda.se/

One of my favorite Easter treats from the U.S. are peeps and I miss them every year. They are a love ‘em or hate ‘em kind of thing and I am in the love ‘em camp. I have fond memories of the peeps in my Easter basket with all of the heads bitten off, courtesy of my big brother. Once I moved away from home he even mailed me some peeps with the heads bitten off for old time’s sake. Last year my mother-in-law found a Swedish equivalent and I was ecstatic (that is not an understatement). So this year I made it a point to visit the Swedish peeps purveyor, Chocolatte a chocolate/coffee shop in downtown Helsingborg. Not only did I find the peep equivalents I was looking for, but some candy eggs that would give Cadbury mini eggs (another one of my Easter favorites) a run for their money.

Although I wasn’t impressed by the marzipan chicks I tried (they were a bit dried out), the nougat eggs and Swedish peeps did not disappoint. If you are an American looking for a nostalgic Easter fix, I recommend a step into Chocolatte if you can’t get your hands on the real peeps and Cadbury mini eggs.

So that is a quick glimpse at Easter in Sweden bathed in candy, herring, painted eggs, Easter witches, påskmust, and feathers. Even though I initially found the feather decorations a bit odd, I’m now totally on board and look forward to seeing them each year. And I’m content to munch on some Swedish peeps and nougat eggs to remind me of Easter back home.

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Categories: holidays & customs, Sweden+

Author:mbnilsson

I'm an American immigrant to Sweden as of 2008. My blog is for people who like food, Scandinavia, or just think Swedes are hot.

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18 Comments on “Glad påsk – Happy Easter”

  1. wilma
    April 7, 2012 at 10:23 am #

    Was also a tad puzzled by the kitchy-looking feathered branches at first – not quite the usual scandi minimalist style!

    • April 7, 2012 at 11:11 pm #

      Maybe after all of those uniformly white christmas lights there is a need for a little burst of color. ;)

  2. April 7, 2012 at 10:49 am #

    Lovely pictures of Easter in Sweden with Påskgodis (Sweets) and Påskris (Easter Twigs with feathers).

    • April 7, 2012 at 11:12 pm #

      Thanks Eva. Hopefully you didn’t get homesick. :)

  3. April 7, 2012 at 2:15 pm #

    Great articles! I just love all the history and all the little details you leave in your stories! Thank you!

    • April 7, 2012 at 11:13 pm #

      Thank YOU for such a nice comment. I’m glad you are enjoying the site.

  4. Annie
    April 7, 2012 at 3:59 pm #

    Love it, Maia! You do such a fabulous job and it’s so fun to get a sneak peek of Sweden.

    • April 7, 2012 at 11:15 pm #

      Thanks Annie. I’m learning so much about Sweden it’s really fun to share and know that people are enjoying it. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

  5. Jenna La Due
    April 7, 2012 at 5:52 pm #

    Thanks Maia. Very interesting to learn about Sweden’s holidays. I like the part about the Easter hags…..

    • April 7, 2012 at 11:16 pm #

      Hmmmm. Somehow I think I could have guessed that would be your favorite part. :) Happy Easter Jenna.

  6. April 7, 2012 at 6:42 pm #

    Wow, what a great post. I really enjoyed the history lesson and the lovely pictures. I once had a boyfriend whose family was very old-world european and you’ve just sent me back to memories at their house around Easter time. This was so interesting. Again, thanks!! (I love your not-so-quiet obsession with sweets… you’re my kinda gal!) :) Happy Easter!

    • April 7, 2012 at 11:18 pm #

      Thanks! I generally consider myself more of a salt person, but lately I’ve been a sugar gal. Go figure. Time to down some more nougat eggs and Swedish peeps! Happy Easter to you too.

  7. April 7, 2012 at 6:53 pm #

    As always your post are well written and so fun to learn about Swedish traditions. Everything you make is also always lovely! Wish I could stop by to see those sugar eggs in person! Have a great Easter with your family!

    • April 7, 2012 at 11:19 pm #

      Thanks Joanna. I wish you could stop by in person too and I’d send you home with an egg! I’ll be sure to do a post about how to make the sugar eggs next year. Happy Easter to you and yours.

  8. April 9, 2012 at 5:26 am #

    I have never tried wrapping easter eggs with leaves, but I have used onion skins. You wrap the raw egg in the onion skins, and then wrap that with newspaper or a paper towel to hold the onion skin next to the shell. Then you secure it with a rubber band and cook the egg as normal for hardboiled egss, maybe adding an extra minute (sometimes they float in the water). You end up with an egg with a nice marbled or sandstone look to it that is really pretty.

    I’ll never forget one check-out clerk’s surprised reaction when I purchased a single onion, but had the bag FULL of all the loose onion skins from their produce section.

    • April 10, 2012 at 8:45 pm #

      Good idea to clean out the extra skins from the onion bin. I imagine the natural dye was lovely. Hope you all had a great Easter.

  9. Marla Trowbridge
    April 12, 2012 at 1:09 am #

    Easter was great here and though Mark was present, alas there were no peeps at Grandma’s for him to bite the heads off. The fact that he does that though was brought up at the dinner table and we were all laughing about it. Memories!!!!!

  10. April 3, 2014 at 1:38 pm #

    I’m with you on the Paskmust/Julmust issue. Undrinkable stuff. Out of curiosity, I once bought some. Big mistake!

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