Sweden’s Clean Thursday

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Today is ‘Skärtorsdag’ – meaning Clean Thursday. So, why ‘clean’? Is it to do with spring cleaning? Or window cleaning? Or the art of Swedish death cleaning? No, it has a much more biblical relevance.

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

In fact, in English ‘Maundy Thursday’ also relates to the same act in the bible – the act of ritual cleaning of the feet is known an The Maundy. The word ‘maundy’ is said to come from the Latin word ‘mondatum’ which means commandment. During the Last Supper, Jesus issued a new commandment – ‘to love each other as I have loved you.’

However, for most people in Sweden, today isn’t about washing feet – it’s more about witchcraft! This is celebrated by children dressing up as witches, rather like we do in the UK and USA on Halloween. This tradition originates from the belief centuries ago that 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.

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So if you dress up as a witch and eat candy – you’ll be kicking off your Easter the Swedish way!

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