Easter: UK vs Sweden

Apr 1, 2021 by

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Photo: Unsplash 

 

We take a closer look at how Swedes and Brits celebrate Påsk – with your tips for making the most of a Swedish Spring in London: 

Easter means something different for everyone. Whether you remember growing up hunting for eggs in the garden, spending all day in Church, dressing up a witch, or just binge-eating a load of chocolate in front of James Bond movies, you’ll probably have your own family traditions to look forward to over the long Bank Holiday weekend. But if you’re a Swede in the UK, or a Brit in Sweden, you’ll probably notice that everyone else is doing things a bit differently – with both countries having their own ideas about the best way to celebrate Easter rooted in centuries of tradition, religion, and folklore…

 

The background

Easter is a Christian holiday in both countries, but it’s always been more secular in Sweden than it has in the UK. For a lot of Brits, Easter is now more about celebrating Spring than Jesus, but the roots of Swedish Påsk stretch far deeper into pagan folklore – with many modern Swedes using the long weekend to get back to nature and head out to holiday homes in the countryside. Both countries start the build-up to Easter on Shrove Tuesday, but if you’re a Swede in London who wants to eat semlor instead of pancakes, you’ll have to head to a Swedish bakery. Countryside rentals are usually easy enough to book outside the city over Easter weekend (and the UK shares the same double bank holiday days as Sweden), but good luck finding a decent semla outside the M25…

 

Photo: Unsplash

 

The decorations

A British Easter looks a bit boring in comparison to a Swedish Påsk. Brits might buy some fresh flowers (usually daffodils or tulips) and stick some plastic fluffy chicks on the dinner table, but it’s nothing next to bouquets of birch twigs and colourful feathers (påskris) that fill a Swedish home at Easter. The origins of the tradition have been pinned to everything from 17th Century self-flagellation practices and Lent carnival-sticks to brooms that sweep away evil spirits – but if you want to make a påskris in London have to find a friend with a Birch tree, go foraging in a local park, and head to an arts and craft shop looking for coloured feathers.

 

Hot cross buns. Photo: Unsplash

 

The food

For most people on both sides of the North Sea, Easter is all about eating. In the UK, that means spiced hot cross buns, marzipan layered Simnel cake and a big roast dinner (usual lamb), whilst Swedes look forward to a smörgåsbord of Gubbröra, Sill, Janssons Tempation and Påskmust. Read more about the smörgåsbord from Pontus Assarsson, Chef at Nordic/Asian inspired restaurant Pantechnicon.

 

Swedish Easter egg Photo: Visit Sweden/ Magnus Liam Karl

 

For children, Easter is all about the sugar. In the UK, it’s perfectly normal to see shops stocking chocolate dragons, cats, stormtroopers, and Harry Potters alongside more traditional chocolate rabbits – whilst hollow chocolate eggs are still the bestsellers. The Swedish tradition of filling paper eggs with sweets has never really made it to the UK, but most supermarkets will sell colourful paper egg boxes that can be opened and filled up. And remember, if you’re talking to any younger British kids – it’s the Easter Bunny that hides the eggs, not the Easter Rooster (yes, we know rabbits don’t lay eggs…).

 

Photo: Visit Sweden/ Lena Granefelt 

The witches

This one is always harder to explain to Brits… If you’re a Swedish child in the UK who dresses up as a witch at Easter and starts knocking on doors asking for sweets, all you’re likely to get is a lot of odd looks. Påskärringar made it to the UK in the form of “trick or treat” at Halloween, but the centuries old tradition (that has its roots in the belief that witches dance with the Devil at Blåkulla) doesn’t exist in any form outside of Sweden. That said, the UK has plenty of its own rural traditions that must seem just as unusual – including village Morris Dancing (a folk dance involving white handkerchiefs, bells and lot of beer), vicious barrel fights (known as “bottle kicking” in the Leicestershire town of Medbourne) and something called “Egg Jarping” which basically just involves two people competing to crack each other’s hard-boiled eggs.

 

We asked the London Swedes community to share their own memories of Easter –
and to tell us how they celebrate påsk in the UK.

Photo: Josefina Boston

 

“I love traditions, especially since having children,” says Josefine Boston. “It’s an opportunity
to make the everyday a bit more magical – something which is very much needed this year!
I am planning a garden egg hunt with some local families to kick it all off.

Following this we will paint eggs as a mid-morning activity and for lunch we’ll have a very simple yet delicious
Swedish Easter feast including three of my very minimalistic favourites:

Eggs, salmon and Swedish cheese. And to end it all we’ll invite some neighbours to enjoy some snaps with us
on our doorstep. Any other year we’d be having a big garden party, but I am excited about
this small celebration.”