In Sweden, they don’t only have Christmas trees, they also have Easter trees. The Easter tree is a handful of twigs and sticks (usually birch)in a vase with coloured feathers attached to the ends. Some people hang eggs. Some people hang chickens.
The Easter tree, or ‘påsk ris’, can be seen all over the country this time of year. Outside shop entrances, in peoples’ living rooms, outdoors in the neighbours’ gardens.
The Easter tree is an interesting cultural phenomena. In fact, all products of a society are. This is because they originate somewhere and, often, we have forgotten the origin but still maintain the product or behaviour.
What’s the origin and symbolism of the Easter tree then?
Well, some Swedes say that it symbolises the wiping away the winter. The twigs represent a broom and the feathers get caught in the broom as we sweep.
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.
But, apparently the Easter tree has a completely different origin and symbolism. It comes from the 1600’s. 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?