Today, the day before Good Friday, is called in Swedish ‘Skärtorsdag’. The word ‘skär’ means ‘clean’ – and it is a biblical reference.
If you know your bible stories, today 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 is 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 secular Sweden, today isn’t that much about religious observance – it’s more about witchcraft! Today is celebrated by children dressing up as witches and going door to door in their outfits begging for sweets.
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 Blåkulla. 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 more expedient – food, milk, clothes, broomsticks. Today, that translates into the Swedish version of trick or treating.