Easter in Sweden

Although contemporary Swedes are an urban people, most of whom live in cities or large towns, the vast majority still have one foot in the countryside. If they don’t have any family left in rural parts, they often still possess a holiday cottage there.

An agrarian strain runs through Sweden’s self-image: Sweden used to be a nation of strong, sinewy peasants, raised on meat and turnips. Most people agree that festive occasions in Sweden should be celebrated in the countryside. Easter in Sweden is no exception.

Easter is the first extended weekend of the spring, and for many Swedish families this means the first trip out to their holiday cottage, which has been locked and deserted all winter. There are window shutters to be opened and stuffy rooms to be aired. The woodstoves are lit, and the smoke fills the kitchen. In the north, Easter is more of a skiing holiday. This is also the case in most of Norway.

Once the cottage has been cleaned, swept and warmed up, Easter can begin. Family members arrive from near and far. At Easter, the aim is to gather as many relatives as possible.

Secular holiday

While in other countries Easter is specifically a religious holiday, it has become a secular one in Sweden. The Swedes are well down in the statistics when it comes to church visits per year, and even if Easter swells the numbers slightly, most people celebrate it at home with their families and relatives.

Many of the practices associated with Easter have religious origins, but this is not something that bothers Swedes much. They eat eggs because they have always done so − not because they have just completed a fast.

Nowadays, eggs are a favourite accompaniment to the dish of pickled herring that is the centerpiece of most Swedes’ Easter meals. And few associate the omnipresent birch twigs − nowadays decorated with brightly coloured feathers − with the suffering of Christ. Easter has its own rituals.

From sweets to salmon

Children dress up as Easter witches; clad in discarded clothes, gaily coloured headscarves and red-painted cheeks, they go from house to house in the neighbourhood and present the occupants with paintings and drawings in the hope of getting sweets in return.

Having consumed all these sweets, they are then given Easter eggs filled with yet more. Parents who are more ambitious let the children search for the eggs themselves in a treasure hunt − following clues and solving riddles until they find their prizes.

A traditional Easter lunch is likely to consist of different varieties of pickled herring, gravlax and Jansson’s Temptation (potato, onion and pickled anchovies baked in cream). The table is often laid like a traditional smorgasbord (or smörgåsbord as it’s written in Swedish). Spiced schnapps is also a feature of the Easter table. At dinner, people eat roast lamb with potato gratin and asparagus, or some other suitable side dish.

My Scandinavian home Easter lunch snapshot
Easter lunch is often enjoyed with close relatives and friends. Photo by Broste Copenhagen

Easter lunch is often enjoyed with close relatives and friends. Photo by Broste Copenhagen

Swedish Easter – the origins

In Sweden, the Easter celebrations used to begin with the three days of Shrovetide, full of carnivals, games and revelry. Activities included playfully thrashing each other with birch twigs and tobogganing down steep slopes. People were also supposed to mark Shrove Tuesday by eating seven hearty meals before observing a 40-day fast.

This piece is reproduced with permission from Sweden.se , operated by the Swedish Institute (SI). SI is a public agency that builds interest and trust in Sweden around the world.

You can also read our blog about the new April Spring Box