Easter is celebrated by many different religions and traditions in Sweden over a 5-day period. Until the 1970s, shops and cinemas were closed on Good Friday to mark a religious holiday. Now, businesses are run with reduced hours. In recent decades, Swedes who practice Christianity have united with folkloric and Old Norse traditions. This results in an explosion of Smorgasbord style eating, fancy dress, fascinating stories and taking time out to appreciate the people around them.
The Easter celebrations in Sweden span from Maundy Thursday to Easter Monday. Holy Saturday is the main day and evening for many exciting celebrations!
Mat och dryck (food and drinks)
Påskbord is a traditional meal consumed over the Easter period with the buffet-style Swedish smörgåsbord – a familiar word! The Easter smorgasbord features eggs prepared in several ways, many salmon dishes such as cold smoked, cured, baked etc, and inlagd sill (pickled herring). This can be eaten where it is infused with spices, mustard or cloves and onions.
Janssons Frestelse (Jansson’s Temptation) is a beautiful dish composed of onions, potatoes and European sprat (a fish from the herring family).
Meatballs always take centre place for these feasts, along with a selection of sausages, pates and gorgeous quiches. The mood of this smörgåsbord is warmer evenings and longer, brighter spring days.
Meatballs as part of a smörgåsbord
Lamb is often eaten in Sweden, as is a familiar food in many countries that celebrate Easter.
Brännvin is a drink traditionally taken as a shot. Similar to vodka, it can be flavoured with orange, cinnamon, and Cognac.
Lamm is traditional over the Easter period
A fairly new tradition established 150 years ago where children dress up as witches and deliver their very own drawings around the neighbourhood on Skärtorsdag (Maudy Thursday). Children are often dressed in miss-matched colours including scarves or handkerchiefs wrapped around their heads and colourful aprons and dresses. Face paint is used to paint bright red cheeks and the addition of freckles and pleases many who open doors to a cheery exclamation of ‘’Glad Påsk!’’.
The inspiration for dressing up as Häxor (witches) was formed in the 16th century, no doubt inspired by the very real witch trials that occurred – resulting in thousands of women all over Europe being burned at the stake. These women were accused of collaborating with the devil. Today, Skärtorsdag is celebrated with the idea witches travel via broomstick to Blåkulla, known as ‘’Blue Hill’’. Here, it is said witches mingled with the Devil after offering a child stolen from their home as a gift to the Devil himself.
Getting into the Påsk spirit
Julklappar (Christmas presents) and påskbrev are similar and are still an occurrence today. Children simply knock and run once their drawing is posted or placed in the near vicinity of the receiving home. Påskbrev occurs only in the rural areas of Sweden – In large cities such as Stockholm, it is less common. It is more of a historical anecdote. In places such as the rural western part of Sweden, Värmland, the påskbrev is filled with candy as a gift.
Påskris (Easter twigs) och pyssel (Handicrafts)
To celebrate the coming of Spring, twigs are cut down from birch trees and are decorated with bright down feathers and placed into a vase for decoration. This celebrates the start of spring and originated from the 17th century to remember Jesus’ suffering and the flogging at the cross. The branches also symbolise witches’ brooms and to ‘’sweep away’’ evil spirits.
The idea to display bouquet-like birch branches was made brighter with influence from Germany in the late 20th century. Vivid colours such as fuchsia, bright yellow, purple and emerald green are used as a way to welcome the new season of springs into families’ homes. Eggs are also painted in eye-catching colours as used as centrepieces or window decorations.
Påskriset ser underbart ut! – The Easter branches look wonderful!
Påskris (Easter twigs)
Påskparad (Easter parade)
On skärtorsdag (Maundy Thursday) an Easter Parade is arranged in several cities, where children dress up as witches. In some cities, however, the parade takes place on påskafton. (Holy Saturday) The finale to this parade typically ends with a godisregn (candy rain).
Påskparad is a very old tradition and again, only takes place in certain areas of Sweden!
Påskbrasa (Easter bonfire)
In Sweden, it is traditional to light a large påskbrasor, an Easter Bonfire, to scare the witches away. The most popular area that hosts this tradition is Bohuslän. This tradition is in fact so popular, it has been observed that people take old Christmas trees to make the fires more explosive and even raid neighbourhoods for extra burning material to create the biggest fires.
Now, local governments must issue permission for when and where fires are allowed for this occasion especially. Sometimes, people also use påskmällare (firecrackers) alongside the bonfires.
Påskbrasor, an Easter bonfire to warn off evil spirits
Äggpickning (Egg pecking)
You may be familiar with a competitive childhood game of conkers, but Swedes play äggpickning – A hand-painted egg-cracking tournament.
This game is popular in the province of Skåne, found in south Sweden and is played on Easter Sunday morning.
The rules are simple: The eggs must be hard-boiled and real and the eggs are knocked against each other, tip to tip until one cracks. The winner progresses in the tournament and gets to keep the loser’s egg as a winning prize. Eventually, the winner will have enough eggs to feed all their friends!
Important Easter dates
14 April Skärtorsdag / Maundy Thursday
15 April Långfredag / (Long Friday) Good Friday
16 April Påskafton / Holy Saturday (the main day for celebrations)
17 April Påskdag / Easter Sunday
18 April Annandag påsk / Easter Monday. A ‘’red day’’, a national holiday.