What’s that you say? Happy “Scandinavian” Easter?
As a 3rd generation Swedish American who grew up in the cultural mecca of San Francisco (the land of killer dim sum and tacos), I didn’t experience a lot of Scandinavian culture outside of my family Christmas traditions and a few other tidbits here and there. We celebrated Easter pretty much like most American kids – with egg hunts, Easter baskets and matching Sunday Easter dresses (between my mom, my sister and I). I was surprised to discover a few ScandinavianEaster traditions I knew nothing about (till now).
For starters, I was surprised to discover that kids in Scandinavia dress up like witches (or “Easter hags” of all things) – and go around asking for treats in exchange for handmade Easter cards. Not at all like the black witches of Halloween, Easter witches are totally cute and happy! That being said, there is often a darker - religious root to these things, but I’m choosing to stay in the “happy place” with this blog post. If you want to read up on the religious history of these traditions… You’ll find some links at the end of the blog (go for it).
The Easter Bunny apparently isn’t a big deal in Scandinavia, but eggs, of course are! Painted Easter eggs were actually first recorded in Sweden (circa 1700’s). Who knew?
In Finland (and all over Scandinavia in general) - bringing in some fresh cut twigs (especially birch twigs) that are just beginning to bud are commonplace. Growing rye grass indoors is another common part of Finnish Easter festivities – right along with all the other typical Easter activities like coloring eggs and card making. Finnish kids also dress up like Easter Hags! Notice the tablecloth… circa 1950’s with witches and rabbits! Finding this at a thrift store here in the US would be totally confusing (lol)!
Teaser letters (also called Secret snowdrop letters) are a uniquely Danish Easter tradition. These cards consist of a “cut out” letter (kind of like a paper snowflake) sent out around Valentines Day where the sender writes a secret poem, includes a snowdrop flower and then signs it only by a mysterious…. If the recipient can guess who sent it, they get an egg on Easter!
Chickens and eggs (and especially the color yellow) are symbols of Easter in Norway. Chickens are a symbol of fertility while eggs are a symbol of rebirth. Needless to say - yellow chicks, yellow candles, daffodils and tulips are all staples of Easter for Norwegians. After the cold, dark winters in Norway… what could be better than that?
In Iceland, Easter is celebrated by hiding big chocolate eggs filled with candy and a piece of paper with an Icelandic proverb written on it. I think of it like an extra big, chocolate fortune cookie! A few popular Icelandic proverbs added to Easter eggs are “A bad rower blames the oar” - “All that glitters is not gold” - “A good child sings good songs” – and “Never is a good verse too often said”.
One additional item I discovered while researching Scandinavian Easter celebrations was lots and lots of feathered branches. Okay… so what’s THAT about? My first inclination was it must be some kind of chicken and egg metaphor, but alas - there is a more somber, religious significance to this seemingly playful modern day tradition. (Again, feel free to read up on the religious history via the links I provided below). At any rate, you will find bright-feathered twigs decorating homes and shops everywhere in Scandinavia at Easter time - a welcome symbol of seasonal change and new beginnings! Happy indeed.
Do you have Easter traditions unique to your family heritage? Please share! Above all - HAPPY spring, and HAPPY Easter to YOU!!