Thursday, April 5, 2012

E is for Easter ~ Mostly What Comes Before

Theme ~ Swedish Rhapsody


When I sat down to write this post, I intended it to be about Easter traditions in Sweden during my childhood. After I read the post, I realized that I had written, for the most part, about the rich traditions that precede the holiday. 
Carnivals and parties before lent, as well as fasting during lent, take place in Christian countries all around the world and I found myself describing the Swedish version of these traditions. Looking back on what I wrote, I decided that what comes before Easter may just be more interesting than the eggs and rabbits of Easter Sunday. I am not forgetting the meaning of Easter, of Good Friday and Easter Sunday here, I just want to share our Swedish traditions.
In olden days, it was difficult to persuade the people of the North to fast during Lent. I can understand it because there is a such need for meat, for protein, and lots of food in cold weather.  They made up for it in the days leading up to Lent (fastan in Swedish) where the days immediately before lent were days of feasting, called fastlagen. I wondered if there was some sort of carnival during these feasting days and looked it up. While there was nothing resembling Mardi Gras,  dancing, practical jokes, and so on were common.
In Sweden, it is custom to eat a large bun, called semla, on the first Tuesday in Lent, called Fettisdagen, and every Tuesday thereafter. This bun is really special. It is large, round, with part of the middle scooped out and filled with marzipan. Then the top of the bun is closed on this wonderful middle. I my home, we ate the semla in a soup plate with hot milk. It is practically impossible to describe what this is and how wonderful it tastes. Not very healthy, perhaps, but we ate one every Tuesday during Lent.


This is a semla from the Internet. (I don't remember the cream that seems to overflow from my childhood's semlor.)

Paskris is another tradition, this one quite lovely. Ris is Swedish for a bare tree branch and during lent brightly colored feathers are attached to these bare branches. There's an open market in the center of Stockholm and I have vivid memories of how pretty it looked when all these bouquets of paskris were displayed. It was very cheerful toward the end of a long and dark winter to bring these branches with their brightly colored feathers into your home.
  

Ash Wednesday was a day of repentance, a day for going to church in Sweden. Thursday before Easter, called skaertorsdag, Maundy Thursday, was the day when people were considered cleansed. It was also a day to be very careful because witches were thought to be on the move. Beginning their travels to Blakulla mountain where the Devil himself was thought to hold a gathering. 


Witches were seen riding through the sky on their broomsticks, with their black cats, and other paraphernalia. In the middle ages, farmers would paint crosses on their doors, place tar on their doorsteps, and do everything in their power to protect themselves. And, yes, in those days, women were persecuted in Sweden too, tortured and executed for being witches.
During my childhood, children dressed up as witches, placed an old coffee pot on a broomstick and rode around the neighborhood asking for candy. I guess there must have been a threat also, but I don't remember. Maybe give us some candy or we will put a witches spell on you. This was sort of the Swedish version of Trick or Treat.
Good Friday in Sweden, in those days, was a very quiet day. All shops and entertainments were closed and people stayed at home with their families. 
Strangely, I don't remember much about Easter itself. I do remember getting very large and very pretty Easter eggs, made of hard paper covered with pretty material. These eggs were filled with chocolates and candies. I'm sure we ate real eggs and maybe even painted some. But that I don't remember. What I do remember though, is a dish called strommingslada, made with Baltic herring that my friend, Christina, made when I visited Sweden during Easter 2001. I believe that was a traditional Easter dish in her family and a tradition that she carried forward.
So be careful today and if you look up this evening, you may see someone on a broomstick riding in the sky on her way to Blakulla.



Happy Easter Everyone!



26 comments:

  1. Inger, that was so interesting! I like the correlation with the trick or treating as well as the carnivals, but most outstanding is that treat? Oh goodness, would I love to sink my teeth into that filling :)

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  2. Inger, your traditions are so wonderful and that pastry is making my mouth water!...:)JP

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  3. Hi Inger!! Another interesting post, that I have really enjoyed!! I had no idea about the witches and women being persecuted in Sweden for it!

    The semla looks scrumptious!!

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  4. Such an interesting post! My husband is of Swedish descent, and I always enjoy learning something new to share with him.

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  5. Great post Inger - it's lovely hearing about your childhood memories ...

    ... I'll certainly keep my eyes on the skies tonight ...

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  6. the witches on holy thursday is most interesting...

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  7. We always had Easter branches, with blown out eggs that were decorated.

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  8. I'll be very careful tonight--in fact, I think I'll just stay indoors!

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  9. Glad Påsk Inger!! Himla bra skrivet i inlägget om vår påsk.
    Vi skall få snö imorgon upp till 10 cm hur kul är det då???

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  10. Glad Påsk Inger! Längtar efter semlor ibland, har inte ätit nån på flera år. Och typiskt påskris -nice
    Will have to watch out for the broom tonight though, can't remember where I put mine [haha!]

    Have a nice Day!

    Eva

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  11. Thank you for this beautiful post, Inger. We'd just finished decorating eggs, so this was perfect. You know how I love the various customs all over the world, and, like Christmas, Sweden's customs delight. Er, I'll take that cream-filled bun. Even if it isn't healthy, sometimes it's best to leave this world with cream on one's lips!

    Happy Easter to you and yours!

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  12. hmmmm buns yumm! Be happy inside.

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  13. Boy Inger, I sure did learn a lot from this post!! First of all, the semla looks wonderful. Great tradition if you ask me. And the tradition of the brightly colored feathers I love as well. You are a wellspring of information!

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  14. It's so lovely to hear about the Easter traditions you grew up with. When I was a little girl Easter was a much bigger event in the States than it seems to be now. While I was living in Washington, DC my closest friend and I decided to have a special dinner of roast lamb and invite our friends to come. It was very popular and we sensed that people really longed for some kind of celebration -- and the word spread -- by the time I came to move away, I was cooking 4 legs of lamb -- no one who was ever invited failed to turn up the following year!

    In Europe it is a much bigger event with each country having many traditions and special food and days off work -- Good Friday and Easter Monday are holidays in England.

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  15. Oops! I forgot to wish you a Happy Easter!!

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  16. OMG, the semla looks to die for. This was so interesting.
    Karen

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  17. When I walk down to the barn to do the late night check on the horses, I'll watch out for witches!

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  18. That sounds amazing! I bet my kids would love to do these things, especially eat the semla ;)

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  19. Very interesting. I like hearing about different customs. I'm trying to visit all the A-Z Challenge Blogs this month.

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  20. Traditions are so meaningful. I don't like the idea of this one world and blending everything into a patchwork quilt. But I guess some people want that. Your traditions are so rich and don't ever give them up.

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  21. Tonight is also the first evening of the Jewish Passover which remembers when Moses was allowed by Pharoah to take the Israelites out of Egypt and slavery. But this was only after the ten plagues, the final one being the slaying of the first born. The Israelites daubed blood over their doors to protect their first born which sounds similar to part of your Swedish traditions.

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  22. All of this was new to me. I guess my Mother's family didn't practice these traditions. I love the paskris - what a great way to celebrate the coming of spring and longer days. A good friend of my son's now lives in Sweden and his pictures, during the winter, seem so dark and grey. And... the witches and collecting candy - how interesting that the same type of activities occur in different countries and different times.

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  23. So interesting and I love the branch with the feathers, what a wonderful idea!

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  24. Now I think I can manage a tradition of semlas every Tuesday....of the year! lol

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  25. Hi Inger .. fascinating stories - love the tree and its hanging feathers .. I've seen a few here hung with Easter eggs .. and wondered about it - possibly Swedish people, or just an idea copied to cheer up the English Spring .. fun though.

    The semla - looks to me much like our Simnel Cake - also has marzipan in it .. and has religious connotations ..

    Pancake Day - is for eating up all the things that weren't meant to be eaten during lent - in the olden days ..

    Great to read - thanks so much for sharing with us .. cheers Hilary

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Thanks for leaving a comment.. ~~ Inger

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