A bit of swedish Easter traditions

Traditions around Easter...


For a short versions: See public holidays.

'Påsk' - Easter

Easter has up to our own times, been a religious holiday in Sweden, and Easter Week has had an air of solemnity about it. Weddings and christenings , for example, have not been considered apropriate during this week. Only in recent years Swedish cinemas has been open on Good Friday.

Easter week starts with with Palm Sunday, commemorating Chist's triumphant entry in to Jerusalem. In Catholic countries this is a day of joyous processions of people carrying palm fronds and laying them before the image of Christ. In Swedens climate some other kind of branches had to take the place of palms; early budding varieties of willow were a common choice.

Still today, such branches are brought into homes and offices so that they have developed leaves by Palm Sunday. In many parts of the country these branches are even called "palms".

As is often the case with major holy days, certain superstitions were attached to Easter. People believed that witches were especially active and their black magic especially powerfull during this week. Even in modern times people have believed that women who practise black magic ("Easter hags") were out and about practising their witchcraft. On Maundy Thursday they were thought to fly off on brooms to consort with the devil at some place called "blåkulla", returning the following Saturday.

On the Easter morning people usually was a bit hesitant when starting of a fire in the fireplace. This as the one who first got smoke up the chimney was believed to be one of the Easter Hags. This at it was commnon that the Easter Hags got caught in the chimneys on their way home from Blåkulla. To be really sure that the chimney was free from magical beeings you had to burn 9 different types of decidous trees.

Before the Easter Hags could fly of from their brooms they had to smear the broom or the object with which they intended to fly with a special mixture of secret origin. On their way to Blåkulla they often gathered in some nearby churchtower to get company for the long voyage. At the same time they could an oportunity to scrape off some metall from the church bells. According to some theories the metal was used as one of the ingredients to the mixture they used, but other theories states that they droped the filings in lakes on their way. This they did because they wanted to show that they where as far to god as the filings where from their bell.

To stay the the night in a church tower on Easter Eve naturally requested courage above the normal. It`s tols that there once was a young man who went to the church tower late one night and when the witches started to gather he saw his fiance among them. he was so astonished by this that he made a sudden move and the withches discovered him. Then his fiance said 'God bless your beatufull hair', with the result that the man went instantly bald.

in another story a soldier wanted to stay the night in a small farm house. The wife of the farmer was a bit reluctant to let him stay, gut the farmer was persistant. The soldier got rather sucpicious about the whole affair and decided to trick the witch. Late at night when the woman was convinced that he slept, she got up from her bed and started to smear some kind of mixture on a broom. After this she said 'Här upp och häran och till helvetet fram över alla trädtoppar!'. Once said she quickly dissapeared up through the chimney.

Quite naturally the soldier was rather surprised. He got up and took the bottle which the woman had left behind. Took another broom, smeared it and said 'Här upp och här ner', something which wasn't quite right. The broom got up through the chimney and then went down again. The broom kept go up and down through the chimney while the poor soldier desperately tried to remember what more the woman had said. After some time he came up with 'utmed alla trädtoppar' which resulted in a fast voyage at tree top height where he was scrubbed against the tree tops all they way to Blåkulla.

At Blåkulla a lot of witches had gathered, most of them from the soldiers own county. Satan self was there and played with the witches. After the meal the whitches started to fight with knifes, exclaiming 'I dag delt i morgon helt' to protect themselves from injuries. The soldier on his side saw his oportunity, took a knife and started to cut every witch in sight as much as he could shouting 'helt idag, delt i morgon'. At the next day, everyone could se which women was witches.

People did everything they could to protect themselves from the evil powers at play these days. They lit bonfires, shot of firearms into the sky, painted crosses, stars and other holy symbols on their doors, buried psaltars under their treshhold and hung scythes and axes criss cross over their live stock. Hysterical fear of the supernatural has triggered off witch trials from time to time over the centueries, sending unknown numbers of women to the gallows or the stake.

These grim superstitions have one much more cheerfull legacy in modern times: On Maunday Thursday or Easter Eve Swedish girls and boys dress up as hags and pay visits to their neighbours. Some leave a small decorated card, an "Easter letter", hoping for a sweet or coin in return. The custom of making "Easter letters" is especially widespread in western sweden. where it is also the custom to slip the letter into a persons mailbox or under his door without being seen. The identity of the sender is a secret.

Easter bonfires are also especially the custom int the western provinces, where villages vie to see who can make the biggest one. The custom of shooting also lives on, albeit in the form of shooting off fireworks.

Eggs are the most common Easter food, and hard boiled eggs are traditionally eaten the evening before Easter Sunday. While the eggs are often decorated, neither their decorations nor the traditions associated with them are as elaborate as in many countries on the continent.

On good friday in northern Sweden there was a custom which wasn't that pleasent for the girls... Early in the mornign the boys in the village gathered, equipped with birch twigs. Then they went to every farm in the neighbourhood and whipped the girls with the branches until they gave the boys something to drink, and that wasn't water...

After a some visits to the farm they boys usually lost a bit of their judgement and sometimes it could be rather unpleasent for the girls...

On the other hand, the girls got their revenge on the night between Easter day and Easter Monday when they in turn gathered to give the boys something of their own medicine...

On the wednesday before Easter (Dymmelsonsdagen) it was common practice to fasten some cind of object (of obvious reason, something which would make the bearer silly) on the back of some poor unsuspecitng victim. The whole point was that the victim shouldn't notice the object and walk around with it the whole day.


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frazze@ludd.luth.se