(Adorable) Easter Witches: Holidays in Sweden with Kids

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Children dressed as Swedish Easter Witches on the search for candy
Don’t be fooled by those cute cheeks- hand over your candy now or prepare to be swept away!

 

This post is based on an excerpt from Easter in Sweden that quickly grew large enough to need it’s own space. If you want to learn more about other Easter Tradtions in Sweden check out the original post here. For more information about Swedish holidays and special food celebrations, check out Holidays and Events in Sweden.

 

Although there’s plenty of rabbit imagery to be found in the shops, for some reason Swedish kids are more skeptical than their American counterparts of candy-containing plastic eggs laid in their yards by a giant bunny early Easter morning.

Go figure.

Instead, the big draw is on Skärtorsdag (Maundy Thursday).

That is the night the Easter witches take to the skies.

 

The Legend of Blåkulla

 

According to Swedish legend, the Thursday before Easter witches all across the country fly off to dance in an island meadow called Blåkulla (the ‘blue hill’).

Said to be just off the country’s coast, most folklore points to the island of Blå Jungfrun as the most likely spot.

But the evil witches don’t make the journey alone. Before setting out across the water, first they search the villages on their route for naughty children who’ve strayed too far from home.

These unlucky tots get snatched up either as an unwilling companion or possibly an in-flight snack – depending on which version of the legend you prefer.

 

Which witch is which?

 

To confuse these witches on their fly-by, children all over Sweden have decided if you can’t beat them- join ’em.

They don over-sized clothes, tie a scarf or kerchief over their hair, paint on rosy cheeks and freckles, grab a broom and tea kettle (or basket) and are thus transformed instantly into tiny and adorable Easter Witches (påskkärring).

Both girls and boys are equally welcome to be Easter Witches. Alternate choices include the old magician man, black cat familiars, and of course the bunnies & chickens that abound at the American Easter celebrations I grew up with.

 

Swedish Easter Witch Decorations

Easter witches fly over a bakery display in Sweden
Witch yummy treat to choose?

 

Shops decorate with flying witches and chick imagery, handing out themed coloring pages and candy to the kids.

Some workplaces will even get in on the fun; inviting employees to don costumes and serving up sweets and treats in style.

 

Swedish Witches: Costume Tips

Bee and Buddy modeling this season’s latest in hag fashion. Should I be worried that about 50% of this is from my closet?

 

If you want to join in on the fun yourself, here’s a few tips I’ve picked up so far:

  • Clashing patterns seem to be the key element, but stick to the same basic color range.
  • Mix polka dots and plaids for maximum effect.
  • Oversized shirts from mom or dad make a great tunic, especially combined with a belt for both look and to keep little toes from tripping.
  • Aprons are popular, and can help keep overlarge shirts in check.
  • A scarf and a pair of boots really sell the look.
  • The witches are said to ride brooms, but ours wasn’t exactly the traditional kind. Not that we could convince Buddy of that!
  • Make sure to have something to collect the candy in! Metal teapots are apparently preferred, but a basket will do in a pinch.
  • Smearing a dab of lipstick on the cheek makes a great blush, and no witch worth her salt doesn’t have a least a few freckles.
  • There is a long standing and widespread tradition of redheaded witches in Europe during what’s commonly (if incorrectly) called the Dark Ages. So, be born with red hair I guess?

 

The Witch Walk

She’s realized her little brother comes with a natural candy multiplying effect, but it only works if she doesn’t leave him behind…

 

Once properly disguised, the little marauders are let loose on the neighborhood.

Knocking on doors, the idea is that it’s all about handing out handmade Happy Easter cards the children have created to share with friends and neighbors.

But no one is fooled- for the kids it’s all about the candy they get in exchange.

By the end of the night the danger of witches has passed and the good children are left to snuggle safely in their beds that night, enjoying sugar fueled dreams filled with magical adventures.

 

Candy Riches for Easter Witches

Swedish Easter candy, seen here before being gobbled up by tiny Easter Witches
Swedish Easter candy, seen here only moments before being gobbled up by tiny Easter Witches

 

Most of the candy my kids collected was unwrapped, much to my initial surprise.

Growing up in America, we are taught from a very early age to fear candy from strangers. Amidst the joyful celebration of any holiday that involves sweet treats like Easter or Halloween comes the suspicion that absolutely everyone out there is trying to kill you. (Have fun Junior!)

Schools, neighbors, and news reports across the USA tell us over and over to only trust individually wrapped candy from recognized brands.

Anything else is 100% made entirely of razor blades and rat poison.

Now to be fair, this fear isn’t entirely without merit. But all things considered one could say that perhaps we’ve taken the fear a bit too far in the States- much to the delight of the candy makers who expected to make $2.7 billion off Halloween treats alone in 2017 (Easter see similar sales figures, with Christmas and Valentines trailing behind respectively)

The good news is the popularity of gumdrops this time of year makes it pretty easy to relax and let my kids enjoy the day. Mom & Dad might still have to taste test a potion of the haul though. Y’know – just in case…

 

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Easter Bonfires

Ok, not quite this big- this is actually for Valburg which is a whole other day celebrated with a giant bonfire. Also see Midsummer, Yule/Christmas, and just about anytime Swedes think a party could be improved with a cozy fire. (Correct answer: nearly always)

 

Fireworks and Easter bonfires (påskbrasa) are lit Saturday to frighten off any remaining Easter Witches still lingering about the villages.

Traditionally these were fueled by the previous year’s Christmas tree, broken furniture or toys, and any other refuse turned up during a household’s spring cleaning efforts.

It makes for a pretty (not to mention pretty tidy) start to the new season.

 

A Darker History

 

Let’s face it- there’s always a dark past lurking behind almost any tradition involving witches, and Sweden is certainly no exception.

Witch hunts were officially stopped in 1677 when every priest in Sweden was ordered to declare the country completely witch-free once and forever more – but the damage had already been done.

At least 300 people had been convicted and executed for the crime of witchcraft, often only on the testimony of young children. When these young “witnesses” were asked to repeat their sworn accounts some time later, the townspeople were horrified to find the stories kept changing.

Even after sanity returned regarding the accused, a new hunt started – this time for the accusers, at least as young as 13 in one particularly tangled case.

In fact the punishment for witchcraft was not legally abolished in Sweden until 1779 – the same year the American state of Delaware amended their own code to concentrate punishment on witchy pretenders and spell selling frauds-for-hire (a tricky line to navigate, to be sure).

In fact, the abolishment or repealing of similar anti-witchcraft laws came surprisingly later in England (1951), the US state of Massachusetts (1981), and Canada (2017!). Witchcraft might even still be technically punishable in some parts of the US like Illinois (someone really needs to update their legal code).

To be honest, I spent an unjustifiable amount of time off in the weeds learning about the history of witches and laws surrounding witchcraft because it turned out to be pretty dang fascinating. I’m feeling inspired to explore the general history of witch trails, Swedish witches and folklore, and/or laws around the world regarding witchcraft – perhaps once we start heading into Halloween season this fall.

Interested?

 

Tell me in the comments below-
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