Sweden’s Easter tree – wiping, witching or whipping?

In Sweden, they don’t only have Christmas trees, they also have Easter trees.

This Easter tree, known as ‘påskris’, is a handful of twigs and sticks (usually birch) installed in a vase with coloured feathers attached to the ends. People often hang painted eggs and other decorations such as chickens in their installation.

The Easter tree can be seen all over the country at this time of year: outside shop entrances, in peoples’ living rooms, in gardens, in the middle of roundabouts.

The Easter tree is an interesting cultural phenomena – but where does it originate?

Wiping: Well, some Swedes say that it symbolises the wiping away of the winter. The twigs represent a broom and the feathers get caught in the broom as we sweep.

Witching: Others say that it represents witchcraft. The twigs represent a witch’s broomstick and the feathers indicate flight. This could also be why Swedish kids dress up as witches at Easter and do a kind of ‘trick or treating’ for Easter eggs.

Whipping: But, apparently the Easter tree has a completely different origin and symbolism. Swedish people, in the 1600’s, used to take twigs and sticks and beat each other with them on Good Friday to commemorate the suffering of Jesus. In the 1800’s and 1900’s, they started to be decorated and became a symbolic decoration for Easter.

So, wiping, witching or whipping. Who would have thought the colourful Easter tree would have such a colourful history?

Sweden’s Easter Art Drive

Now it’s Easter break with 4 lovely days off for most of us. In Sweden, this is a time that many people go out to their country houses or travel abroad to warmer climes. If you’re still in Sweden, and looking for something to do, one suggestion is to head south to the county of Skåne, and the region within Skåne called Österlen. Every year, over Easter, this area hosts an Easter Art Drive, or ‘Open Studios Week’ where you can travel around and get a rare glimpse into the homes and studios of working artists.

This event started in 1968, when a few artists decided to open their studios to the public. Within six years, this had expanded to well over 60 artists welcoming people directly in to their places of work. Most of the artistic fields are represented – sculptors, painters, textile artists, glassblowers, silversmiths, ceramic artists, printmakers, handcraftsmen, wood and computer artists.

It is a fantastic experience. Driving through the beautiful Swedish countryside between villages, wandering amongst the studios built from renovated barns, drinking coffee in the temporarily opened out buildings and hen houses.  The artists themselves are usually there and it is easy to engage in conversation about their work and their inspiration. Everything is for sale, so you can also leave Easter week with a unique and reasonably-priced piece of art under your arm.

For more information, check out http://www.oskg.nu/english

A witchy pink Thursday in Sweden

easterwitchmooon

Today is ‘Maundy Thursday’ in English and in Swedish it has the unusual name of ‘Skärtorsdag’. The word ‘skär’ means ‘pink’. But does that make today Pink Thursday?Actually not. The word ‘skär’ has another meaning that might be more relevant – ‘clean’ – and it is a biblical reference.

If you know your bible stories, today being the day before Good Friday is the day when Jesus gathered his disciples together for the Last Supper, introduced communion, and was later betrayed by Judas, and condemned to death on the cross. Prior to the Last Supper, Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. And he washed them clean – a symbolic metaphor for purification and the washing away of sin.

So, today isn’t Pink Thursday – it’s Clean Thursday. In fact, in English ‘Maundy Thursday’ also relates to the same act in the bible – the act of ritual cleaning is known an The Maundy.

However, in Sweden, today isn’t that much about washing feet – it’s more about witchcraft! Today is celebrated by children dressing up as witches, rather like we do in the UK and USA on Halloween. Children go door to door in their outfits begging for sweets. Well, at least this is what I have heard. In the 20 years I have lived in Sweden, no witchy child has ever knocked on my door. Maybe that’s a city thing?  Perhaps the tradition is more popular in the suburbs and the countryside?

But why do they dress at witches in the first place? Well, this tradition originates from the belief centuries ago that the Skärtorsdag was the night of the witches, where these wicked hags would climb onto their broomsticks and fly to a mountain called Blåkulle. It was a night of danger and evil, and Swedish people would bar their doors to their houses and barns and leave outside gifts that would make the witches’ journey easier – food, milk, clothes, broomsticks. Today, that translates into the Swedish version of trick or treating.

paskkarringar-2-700x528

So if you celebrate by cleaning, or by dressing up as a witch or by eating candy – you’ll be kicking off your Easter the Swedish way!

25 Swedish False Friends

Sorry to potentially disappoint you but this post isn’t about the deceitful nature of Swedish people. It’s about a linguistic concept known as the ‘false friend’.

When we are learning a foreign language, there are many words that are similar in our own language and in the language that we are trying to learn. In some cases, these words have the same meaning and that’s all good. In other cases, these similar-sounding words have different meanings and trick us into a fake sense of security – these words are called bilingual homophones or ‘false friends’.

The origin of the term is as a shortened version of the expression “false friend of a translator”, the English translation of a French expression introduced by linguists Maxime Kœssler and Jules Derocquigny in their 1928 book, ‘False Friends, or the Pitfalls of the English Vocabulary’.

So prepare yourself. Here are 25 false friends between Swedish and English:

    ‘Eventuellt’ in Swedish does not mean ‘eventually’ in English. It means ‘possibly’.
    ‘Smälla’ (pronounced smella) in Swedish means ‘burst’, not ‘smell’
    ‘Advokat’ in Swedish does not mean ‘advocate’, it means ‘lawyer’.
    ‘Vrist’ is your ‘ankle’, not your ‘wrist’
    ‘Ansvar’ is responsibility, not ‘answer’
    ‘Nöt’ (kött) is not ‘nut’, it is the Swedish word for ‘beef’. ‘Biff’ isn’t ‘beef’, it’s more of a burger or a beef steak
    ‘Blankett’ in Swedish doesn’t mean ‘blanket’. It is the word for a ‘form’ that one fills in.
    ‘Kind’ (pronounced shind) isn’t ‘chin’ or ‘shin’. It is the Swedish word for ‘cheek’.
    ‘Kock’ is the Swedish word for ‘chef’. Say no more. ‘Chef’ is the Swedish word for ‘manager’.
    ‘Konkurrera’ does not mean ‘concur’. Quite the opposite in fact, it means ‘compete’.
    ‘Kostym’ isn’t ‘costume’. It means ‘suit’.
    ‘Delikat’ means ‘delicious’, not ‘delicate’.
    ‘Fabrik’ means ‘factory’, not ‘fabric’
    ‘Familjär’ sounds like it would mean ‘familiar’. But it doesn’t, it means ‘intimate’ in English.
    ‘Grind’ doesn’t mean ‘grind’ in English. It is the Swedish word for a ‘gate’.
    ‘Hammock’ sounds like it would be ‘hammock’ in English but it isn’t – it is the word for a ‘porch swing’.
    ‘Hugga’ won’t get you a hug in Swedish, it’ll get you a ‘stab’
    ‘Kiss’ isn’t a loving kiss in Swedish. It is the word for pee/piss. Something altogether different.
    If you ask for a ‘pensel’ in Sweden, you won’t get a ‘pencil’ – you’ll get a paintbrush,
    ‘Recept’ means ‘recipe’ or ‘prescription’ – not ‘receipt’
    ‘Stol’ is not a ‘stool’. It’s a chair.
    ‘Vikarie’ isn’t ‘vicar’. It’s a stand-in or a replacement.
    ‘Blinka’ is not ‘blink’, it is ‘to wink’. And ‘vinka’ is ‘to wave’.
    ‘Necessär’ isn’t ‘necessary’. It is what Swedes call their ‘toiletary bag’ or ‘wash bag’.
    If you give somebody ‘dricks’, you are giving them a ‘tip’, not a drink.

What others can you think of?

Swedish False Friends

Sorry to potentially disappoint you but this post isn’t about the deceitful nature of Swedish people. It’s about a linguistic concept known as the ‘false friend’.

When we are learning a foreign language, there are many words that are similar in our own language and in the language that we are trying to learn. In some cases, these words have the same meaning and that’s all good. In other cases, these similar-sounding words have different meanings and trick us into a fake sense of security – these words are called bilingual homophones or ‘false friends’.

The origin of the term is as a shortened version of the expression “false friend of a translator”, the English translation of a French expression introduced by linguists Maxime Kœssler and Jules Derocquigny in their 1928 book, ‘False Friends, or the Pitfalls of the English Vocabulary’.

So prepare yourself. Here are 25 false friends between Swedish and English:

    ‘Eventuellt’ in Swedish does not mean ‘eventually’ in English. It means ‘possibly’.
    ‘Smälla’ (pronounced smella) in Swedish means ‘burst’, not ‘smell’
    ‘Advokat’ in Swedish does not mean ‘advocate’, it means ‘lawyer’.
    ‘Vrist’ is your ‘ankle’, not your ‘wrist’
    ‘Ansvar’ is responsibility, not ‘answer’
    ‘Nöt’ (kött) is not ‘nut’, it is the Swedish word for ‘beef’. ‘Biff’ isn’t ‘beef’, it’s more of a burger or a beef steak
    ‘Blankett’ in Swedish doesn’t mean ‘blanket’. It is the word for a ‘form’ that one fills in.
    ‘Kind’ (pronounced shind) isn’t ‘chin’ or ‘shin’. It is the Swedish word for ‘cheek’.
    ‘Kock’ is the Swedish word for ‘chef’. Say no more. ‘Chef’ is the Swedish word for ‘manager’.
    ‘Konkurrera’ does not mean ‘concur’. Quite the opposite in fact, it means ‘compete’.
    ‘Kostym’ isn’t ‘costume’. It means ‘suit’.
    ‘Delikat’ means ‘delicious’, not ‘delicate’.
    ‘Fabrik’ means ‘factory’, not ‘fabric’
    ‘Familjär’ sounds like it would mean ‘familiar’. But it doesn’t, it means ‘intimate’ in English.
    ‘Grind’ doesn’t mean ‘grind’ in English. It is the Swedish word for a ‘gate’.
    ‘Hammock’ sounds like it would be ‘hammock’ in English but it isn’t – it is the word for a ‘porch swing’.
    ‘Hugga’ won’t get you a hug in Swedish, it’ll get you a ‘stab’
    ‘Kiss’ isn’t a loving kiss in Swedish. It is the word for pee/piss. Something altogether different.
    If you ask for a ‘pensel’ in Sweden, you won’t get a ‘pencil’ – you’ll get a paintbrush,
    ‘Recept’ means ‘recipe’ or ‘prescription’ – not ‘receipt’
    ‘Stol’ is not a ‘stool’. It’s a chair.
    ‘Vikarie’ isn’t ‘vicar’. It’s a stand-in or a replacement.
    ‘Blinka’ is not ‘blink’, it is ‘to wink’. And ‘vinka’ is ‘to wave’.
    ‘Necessär’ isn’t ‘necessary’. It is what Swedes call their ‘toiletary bag’ or ‘wash bag’.
    If you give somebody ‘dricks’, you are giving them a ‘tip’, not a drink.

What others can you think of?

The night I lost my sight in Sweden

Last night some friends and I had an interesting dining experience in Stockholm. We went to a place called Svartklubb – which translates as ‘black club’ and is also the Swedish word for a speak-easy. The name of the place is a clever play on words, because the entire dining room is actually plunged into darkness, and the waiting staff are blind.

The purpose of the restaurant is to provide guests with the experience of how it is to be without sight. And it’s an interesting, and humbling, way to spend a few hours. The dining room was pitch black, you were guided through the darkness to your seat, you couldn’t see your hand in front of your own face. An unknown three-course meal (delicious) and drinks were served to you and you had to navigate the use of cutlery and glassware without spilling on yourself, smashing glasses or spraying your neighbours. You had no idea what your environment looked like, what the other diners on the next table looked like or even how far away you were sitting from each other.

The thing that I found most disturbing was the noise level in the room. When sight is removed, our other senses increase, and to me it felt like people were screaming and shouting. This was a surprising insight into how it must be for blind people on a daily basis.

Once out of the dining room, as my eyes adjusted to the dim light in the bar, a sense of relief swept over me. At last my sight was back. And again the realization hit me that, for blind people, their sight doesn’t come back. What we just experienced for a short time is the reality for them 24-7. It certainly gave me a sense of reverence.

In Sweden, there are approximately 100,000 people registered as blind or visually impaired. According to the WHO, there are 253 million people globally who are visually impaired – 36 million people of them who are fully blind. That number will increase to 115 million people by 2050. The majority of these are in developing countries, and the tragedy is that roughly 75% of blindness could be prevented or cured with a simple operation.

If you are interested in donating some money to help, then check out the organization http://www.sightsavers.org

If you are interested in trying out Svartklubben, you can book a table at http://www.svartklubben.com or via Ticketmaster.

Who is Sweden’s Patron Saint?

Last night I was at a party (not the picture above). I was clad in green, and wearing a green sign saying Lucky and depicting a pot of gold. Over the speakers, a mix of folk music, U2 and the Cranberries blasted out. Offensive green-coloured beer was served.

Today, 17 March, is St Patrick’s Day. St Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland, is being celebrated all over the world. And just like me last night, people are donning green clothes, dancing to fiddely-diddely music and downing beer.

Out of curiosity, I wondered who Sweden’s Patron Saint is. So I researched and I have to say the answer wasn’t totally clear. One Saint in particular kept popping up, but in only one case did I see her referred to as the Patron Saint of Sweden. She is however one of Europe’s 6 Patron Saints.

Do you know who I’m referring to?

I am referring to Saint Brigit, known in Swedish as Saint Birgitta. She is definitely the most celebrated saint of Sweden. Born 1303 into a wealthy noble family, she entered a Catholic convent after the death of her husband. By this time she was 41 and had 8 children. In 1350, she went to Rome to meet the Pope and there she remained until her death at the age of 70. Her feast day is 23 July, the day she died. Brigit established the Swedish religious community which was to become the Order of the Most Holy Saviour, or the Brigittines at the Swedish town of Vadstena.

Brigit is known for her many influential visions. In her first, at the age of 10, she saw Jesus suspended on a cross. Ages. Her visions of the birth of Jesus came to affect nativity art for centuries to comethe infant Jesus lying on the ground and emitting light himself, the Virgin as blond-haired, a single candle attached to the wall, and the presence of God the Father above. Her visions were recorded in Revelationes coelestes (“Celestial revelations”) and made her a revered and controversial celebrity in the Middle

In Sweden people know vaguely who Birgitta is. I wonder if many know that she is the Patron Saint of the country. She is fairly far from the minds of most Swedes and, unlike the Irish St Patrick, or the Welsh St David, not at all integrated into Swedish identity.

Probably because of her ‘invisibility’, I actually haven’t heard of annual celebrations in Sweden to commemorate Brigit. I’m guessing it’s a low-key affair for the converted. I’m guessing it’s about prayer, meditation and reverence. I’m guessing it’s not about dressing in a unified colour and dancing the jig. And I assume very little beer guzzling is involved.