Stranger In A Strange Land: Easter Witches, Donald Duck and Fika

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Say hello to the Easter tree.

Actually, it’s not a tree at all but a collection of long willowy twigs with yellow feathers attached. This is the traditional Easter decoration here in Sweden. Easter, or Påsk as it is known, has some, er, “different” traditions associated with it.

If you’re cruising to Sweden or just visiting, knowing how the nation celebrates holidays helps you prepare for the Swedish mentality. (It’s also useful to know how Sweden celebrates Christmas, but that’s another story. Quickly, however, on Christmas Eve, the whole nation — I’m not kidding, all Swedes, those stylish, sleek, sophisticated people — sit down at 3 p.m. to watch Kalle Anka, which are — now take a moment to prepare yourself for this — Donald Duck cartoons. The first time I celebrated a Swedish Christmas, I thought I had landed in Bizarro World. Actually, Christmas in Sweden is very lovely, with the focus on family. Plus, it’s fun, if not a bit strange, to watch the Swedes mimic Donald Duck and friends.)

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For Easter, the big day is Saturday (the holiday is known as Påskafton), when people get together for a traditional dinner that typically consists of sill (herring), lax (salmon), deviled eggs topped with Kalles caviar, kottbullar (meatballs), Prinskorv (a small Swedish sausage) and, of course, Påskmust, which is like a cola but made with a secret recipe.

The same food is served for Christmas, by the way, but with a different cola. Julmust is served during Christmas. Some people swear that they prefer Julmust over Påskmust, but here’s a secret: I believe Julmust and Påskmust are made from the same batch, simply relabeled. Temper your protests please.

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And of course, no get-together would be complete without schnapps, beer and traditional songs. Sitting around the table, guests sing familiar favorites before toasting one another (skål). There is a whole tradition around skål that I’ll get to in another post.

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One of the strangest parts of the Swedish Easter tradition, however, is the Påskkäring, or the Easter witch.

In Sweden and parts of Finland, the tradition of the witch is said to come from the old belief that witches would fly to a mountain in Germany the Thursday before Easter to cavort with Satan. As the witches returned, Swedes would light fires to scare them away, a practice honored today by the bonfires and fireworks across Sweden in the days leading up to Easter.

This year, a record number of “witches” (nearly 3,000) attended a march in Visby, Sweden. And you thought watching Donald Duck was strange. Children also dress in witch costumes and collect candy, kind of like a mini-Halloween.

Sweden is full of traditions, lovely traditions. One that I enjoy quite a lot is fika. What’s fika? Check out the video below.

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