The ceremony begins with a mass and a reading from the Bible of the Passion of Christ. When the funeral procession is mentioned, the congregation exits the church to begin their procession through the streets of the old hilltop town. The parade is led by a penitent in a black gown, wearing a black hood and carrying a large cross. A young girl portraying the Virgin Mary follows. Mourners are clothed and veiled in black come next. Some of them carry the symbols resting on scarlet cushions. They include: a crown of thorns, a whip, nails, a hammer, tongs, and St. Veronica‘s shroud.
Easter celebrations in secular Sweden are comparable to Christmas for the secular American. While some attend church on Easter Sunday, for a majority of Swedes many of the celebrations have little to do with Christian beliefs. Easter is a big deal in Sweden and the entire country partakes in their holiday traditions. We were in Sweden weeks before Easter, but signs of it were already everywhere. The Swedes seemed to look forward to Easter as a sign of spring.
I asked a nice lady at the National Museum gift shop about branches with colored feathers attached to them. In the 12 hours I’d spent in Sweden, I’d seen them countless times. She explained to me that Easter in Sweden is kind of like Halloween in the US. In Sweden, children dress up as witches, paint their faces, carry brooms and knock on their neighbor’s doors for treats.
The schedule is a bit different than in the US. Many of the traditions predate Christianity and were incorporated into Easter celebrations over the years:
- Palmsöndag (Palm Sunday) Instead of picking up palm leaves or other branches from the church, Swedes pick up pussy willows. They are also used as an Easter decoration.
- Svarta måndag (black Monday) is when chimneys were traditionally swept.
- The Thursday before Easter, Skärtorsdag (Holy Thursday), Swedish children dress up as påskkärringar (witches) and go trick-or-treating…well, sort of. Skärtorsdagen is the day of the Last Supper. Swedes considered it a dangerous day to be out, because the old spirits were let loose. The night was a time for the devil, who wanted you to sign a contract exchanging for riches for your soul. Hence the witches…
- Good Friday is more appropriately named in Swedish Långfredag – Long Friday. No fun may be had on this day (to mourn of the crucifixion of Christ). In fact, public entertainment was prohibited until 1969. The fun recommences on Saturday morning.
- Saturday night is Påskafton (the Christmas eve of Easter), a day for feasting and eating. Families sit down to dinners of eggs and lamb, representing the fertility of the spring and the rebirth of the year after the long winter. They also have special crackers and exchange cards. Traditionally children make drawings of witches, chickens and eggs accompanied by a few words. In the late afternoon, bonfires are lit in many areas to scare off the evil influences.
- During Easter week in Sweden, it is taboo to get married or baptize a child.
By the way, Swedes also have beautifully decorated Easter eggs, both decorative and edible.