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After the long, dark nights of winter, Easter and the arrival of spring are truly celebrated in Scandinavia. Whether spent in the south welcoming the return of the spring flowers or spent escaping to the mountains in the North, getting in a few last runs on the slopes, Easter is a time of renewal for Scandinavians, celebrated with good food and good company (and perhaps the odd shot of aquavit or two). Peek into the history of the Viking north and you’ll find plenty of magic things that add to the richness of Scandinavian Easter celebrations.
Many of the Scandinavian countries have their own specific traditions associated with Easter, most of which stem from Christianity, but some of which have other origins and over the years have become part of the Easter holiday traditions.
In Denmark, for example, the tradition of writing “teaser letters” still holds strong and has done since the early 1800s. A teaser letter is a pattern carefully cut into a piece of paper with a little verse written between the cuttings. The sender then adds dots in place of his or her name and encloses a snowdrop – considered to be the first flower of the year in Denmark and a symbol of springtime and lighter days. If the receiver cannot guess who sent the letter before Easter, the prize for the sender is a nice big Easter egg. If, however, the sender guesses, the prize goes to the recipient (although, miraculously, most parents never do seem to be able to guess which letters are from their own kids).
In Norway a slightly different tradition is associated with Easter, and perhaps a slightly unusual one at that, with no links to anything much historic: around Easter, publishers rush to churn out masses of what are known to all Norwegians as “Påskekrimmen” – literally translated as ‘Easter Thrillers’ – and bookshops are filled to the brim with newly published crime novels. This fascination with “whodunnits” even extends to mini-thrillers being published in obscure places such as on the side of milk cartons. So, if this Easter you happen to bump into a Norwegian who has his backpack stuffed with a selection of gory crime novels, an orange and a ‘Kvikk Lunch’ chocolate bar, it’s pretty standard fare.
Sweden, on the other hand, has Easter celebrations that are deeply rooted in the old Christian witch-hunt times. The celebrations last from Maundy Thursday until Easter Monday. In the olden days it was thought that on Maundy Thursday, all the Witches would fly off on their broomsticks to the Blue Mountains in Germany to have a weekend of fun and dancing with Satan. Today, children in Sweden celebrate by dressing up as little witches, called påskkärringar (literally: ‘Easter Witches’): dressed in long skirts, headscarves, painted red cheeks and freckles. The kids go from house to house to collect money or sweets – this is the Swedish version of the North American tradition of Halloween. The children sometimes also deliver an Easter Letter – the identity of the sender is always supposed to be a secret.
Easter time in Scandinavia is, of course, also about eggs – both the chocolate version, the version filled with sweeties, the painted version and the version that has a place on the traditional Scandinavian smorgasbord. In Sweden and Denmark, the traditional Easter lunch is pretty much the same as it is at Christmas time except minus a few of the heavier winter dishes. Plenty of herring, cured salmon with dill sauce, meatballs and beetroot salad and perhaps smoked or roasted lamb dishes. All washed down in the company of good friends and a bottle of something strong, such as the delightful aniseed flavoured Danish Aalborg aquavit.
Scandinavia comes highly recommended for Easter, whether you fancy walking through the budding green forests of Denmark in the south or feeling serene in the still snowy mountains of northern Scandinavia – there are certainly adventures to be had and beautiful scenery to be explored along with rich traditions in which to take part. Alternatively, be Norwegian right here at home and cosy up in front of the fire with a bunch of crime novels and dream of long summer days to come.