Today, the Thursday before Easter, when you are out and about in Sweden you might find yourself face to face with a witch. A child pretending to be an Easter witch, “påskkäring” dressed in colorful mismatched aprons and scarfs with painted rosy red and pocked cheeks. Going around dressed as a witch knocking on doors in hopes of candy or money in exchange for a drawing might sound like Halloween to me or any other American, but in Sweden it is part of Swedish Easter tradition. A tradition with roots that reach back hundreds of years.
In the 15-1600’s the Thursday before Easter, “skärtorsdag,” was a dangerous and frightful day; the day when all the witches (häxor) flew to a mountain called blåkulla to visit the devil. This visit was to “meet,” “party,” “dance,” “dance naked,” or “have sex” with the devil (djävulen) – depending on who you ask or where you read. Regardless of what the witches did with the devil, they had to fly on their broomsticks to & fro over Sweden in order to get there. People made huge fires to ward the witches away from landing near them, they closed their chimney flutes and shutters, they shot into the air. This fear struck on both Thursday and three days later upon their mass return on Saturday. These witches were said to go to church on Sunday with everyone else, but would be discovered because they said their prayers backwards.
The execution of the last witch in Sweden was in 1720, with gruesome witch trials in the 1670s, since then children have started to take on the role of the witches. You will also find many houses witch decorations, both beautiful and ugly. Even the black cat is found, believed to be the devil. It is not only the witches that stuck around throughout the years, but also the fires. If you celebrate Easter in Sweden be prepared to encounter some bonfires and/or fireworks.
Easter is a very big deal in Sweden, up there with Christmas and Midsommar. Instead of celebrating on Sunday, as I am used to, we celebrate on Saturday in Sweden with a four day holiday. Some Swedes will go to church for pask, but as you can tell by this hexing tradition alone, Swedish Easter predates Christian beliefs. There are also eggs, chickens, rabbits, candy, and more traditions that I am more familiar with that I will go into detail about when I am back from our Easter weekend, “påskhelgen,” with family.
The very first time I came to Sweden it was for Easter three years ago, upon arrival I saw a little girl in the airport dressed as a witch and I thought that either she or I was crazy. Now that I know what it all means I wish I snapped a photo. This might not be my first Easter in Sweden but it all means so much more now, the culture, tradition, food, and language.
Glad påsk! Happy Easter!