In the United States, Easter is a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. Its origins however actually have roots in Paganism, celebrating the Spring Equinox, and the renewal of life that comes with spring. The traditional images of Easter in America, including rabbits, chicks, and eggs are all symbols of fertility and life. These symbols are not ubiquitous however.
In Sweden, the figure most synonymous with Easter might be more associated with Halloween in the United States. Sweden celebrates Easter Påskkäringar, Easter Witches.
In Swedish folklore, on Maundy Thursday, a Christian holy day on the Thursday before Easter, witches would land on the roof of homes, trespass into the homes down the chimney, and brew pots of black coffee to take with them to Blåkulla, an island where a witches’ sabbath took place with Satan himself. People would often set large bonfires, and fire guns into the air to scare off the witches. Some people would even block off their chimney to prevent witches from trespassing into their homes. Despite these efforts to scare witches away, it was considered a sign of good prosperity to be visited by a witch.
Swedish children in the 1880s would often dress as witches, complete with masks and brooms, and open people’s doors to place greetings of prosperity into their home in secrecy. Small witch themed gifts and postcards were also often exchanged on Easter. Many of these postcards depict witches flying on brooms, toting a coffee pot, visiting homes to bring their occupants good fortune.
In present day Sweden, Easter is now celebrated by having children go door to door dressed as witches, trolls, and even modern pop culture characters collecting candy in copper kettles, exchanging small handmade Easter greetings for the treats. It is also popular to set off fireworks and set bonfires to scare away witches on their way to Blåkulla.
Although Finland has adopted some of these Easter traditions, Swedish Easter has not caught on in most of the world. It is my hope that we can bring these traditions to the United States though. After all, who wouldn’t like a second Halloween-esque tradition during the year, complete with witches and bonfires.