Many Easter traditions in the Nordic countries are of Christian origin, yet there are pagan elements that remain central. Easter has besides become a way to celebrate the return of the long-awaited Spring season after a prolonged and dark winter.
A tradition in Sweden and Finland is that the children dress up as witches as they greet people happy Easter. They get candies in return. This tradition goes back to the witch hunt of the 17th century. It was said that the witches flew across the sky on their broom to a party on Thursday (Skärtorsdagen) before Easter. The festivities were said to be held at “Blåkulla” and were held by no one less than the devil himself. According to the myth, the witches returned home on Saturday. In some parts of Sweden, the tradition of lighting an Easter bonfires lives on. The fire is lit on this day to scare the witches and prevent their return.
Ornaments and crafts
Eggs play a central role in Nordic Easter celebrations and are part of the children's favourite crafts. Boiled eggs are painted with bright colors. In Sweden, it is common for children to be part of decorating the Easter tree. This consists of branches of birch placed in a vase and decorated with feathers, eggs and other Easter related objects. Often the branches are picked a week before the celebration so that the buds strike out with their light green leaves just in time for Easter. Yellow is otherwise the true Easter color in all Nordic countries. It’s tradition to use yellow tablecloths and curtains in the home for Easter.
In Norway, the tradition to eat oranges. Rakfisk is also a must have for the Norwegian Easter dinner. This dish consists of the fish trout, which is fermented and served with potatoes, raw onions, typical Norwegian bread and sour cream. In Denmark, it’s tradition to eat so-called “skidne æg”, which consist of boiled eggs with homemade mustard. Danish curried herring and lamb chops are also very traditional. Sweden enjoys the “smörgåsbord” of various dishes. This buffet often consists of boiled eggs, meatballs, potatoes, herring and salmon, among other dishes. Iceland celebrates Easter by eating roasted leg of lamb, sugar-glazed potatoes and gravy.
Eggs symbolize rebirth and can be traced to the Christian faith, and are a major part of Easter celebrations in all Nordic countries.
In Denmark, it is a common tradition that children send so-called “gækkebrev” , a name derived from the flower 'snow drop'. The children make letters out of paper folded 4 times and cut into various shapes and sent to family and friends. It is a sort of 'tease' letter that is usually in the form of a poem or a verse. If the recipient succeeds in discovering out who sent the letter, he or she is rewarded with a chocolate egg. If the receiver fails to guess who sent the letter, the sender is rewarded with an egg. Even Sweden as one of the world's most candy-eating countries, holds their candy-filled Easter eggs very dear. They are often distributed at workplaces to employees, while the children may go treasure hunting for theirs. In Iceland, the Easter egg is filled with sweets in all the colors of the rainbow and a piece of paper with a proverb.
In all Nordic countries, Easter celebrations are devoted to spending time with loved ones. For Norwegians it’s common to go on a ski-trip together. In many places there are ski competitions where neighbors compete for fun prices. Competing in sports and quizzes are also common ways of spending Easter in Norway. For the Danes, who embrace their expression “hygge” very dearly, spend their time enjoying life and appreciating time with their loved ones.
Easter in the Nordic countries consist of many deep-rooted traditions, but according to most Nordics and Scandinavians, they don’t mean much unless it is spent among family and friends.