Travel back in time for a traditional Easter in Sweden

Easter week is celebrated at Skansen, Sweden in different ways. On Maundy Thursday children all over Sweden dress up as witches to deliver Easter letters and receive candy.

On Skansen they can make their own brooms and pretend they’re taking off for Blåkulla. In some of the houses the Easter feast is prepared and traditions explained and on the Bollnäs square there is an Easter market selling birch twigs with the traditional feather decorations, sweets and food.

During Easter, you can visit some of our houses and farmsteads to see what Easter was like a hundred years ago or more. In Skånegården, you can experience how Easter was celebrated in the 1920s and what a Passover dinner table could look like then. In Oktorpsgården, Easter is celebrated like in the 1870s but be careful – the gun is in place to shoot off trolls and gnomes!

In Väla School it is Maundy Thursday and teaching family has decorated their house, in 2012 the Easter celebrations starts with Maundy Thursday on the 5th of April, and ends on the 9th of April.

The tradition

Easter is a movable feast as it follows the path of the moon. It can come as early as March, which presents an opportunity for winter sports in the northern parts of Sweden, and it can be as late as the beginning of April, which makes it easier for all the flower growers who delivers the traditional yellow daffodils – the commonest Easter ornament in people´s homes.

Yellow is the colour for Easter, reflecting the part which eggs and chicks have come to play in this festival. At Eastertime, Christians of every denomination the world over consume millions and millions of eggs. At no other festival is there such a general agreement on what should be eaten. The original reason for this vas that six weeks of Lent prevented the faithful from eating the eggs which the poultry, and wild birsd, were beginning to lay in copious quantities at that time of year. By the time Easter came round, eggs were so plentiful that the menu was fairly obvious. As an additional festive touch for the Easter meal time, it has been the custom everywhere in Europe to paint eggs, an art which in Sweden is mainly practised in the south parts of the country.
In other ways too, food at Easter has a religious background. The salmon consumed on Good Friday reminds us that, long after the Reformation, the Swedes were still keeping this as a fast, and, accordingly, fish day.

Whereas the fish diet of Good Friday has an ancient history, the “paschal lamb” – roast leg of lamb for dinner on one of the days of Easter – is a novel custom. The idea comes from the Bible story of the Passover first celebrated by the Israelites in Egypt, and in the Mediterranean countries the paschal lamb is in many places a regular custom.
One ancient, grisly aspect of Easter celebrations has now been turned into a children´s amusement. Little girls, and sometimes boys too, wearing head scarves and long skirts, go from door to door with a coffee pot which they expect to get filled with small change or sweets. Known as Easter crones or Easter witches, they recvall the old superstition in Sweden that Easter was the time when the witches flew to the devil on the “Blue Mountain”, a belief which, even in the 18th century, could still mean capital punishment for those who were denounced.
Other relics of past belief in witchcraft are also unwittingly perpetuated by the Swedes. In the west of Sweden especiallly, firecrackers are let off on Easter night to scare avay evil forces lurking in the dark. At Skansen the farmer at the Oktorp farmstead has his rifle ready and loaded during Easter.
Source: Maypoles, Crayfish and Lucia by Jan-Öjvind Swahn, The Swedish Institute