The colourful Swedish Easter tree

With Easter approaching, Swedes start pimping their homes. Yellow table cloths, yellow curtains and yellow tulips are common, as is something called a ‘påskris’. Pronounced ‘poskrees’, this is a Swedish Easter tree.

The Easter tree is a bunch of twigs and sticks (usually birch) in a vase with brightly coloured feathers attached to the ends. Some people also hang decorated eggs, colourful ribbons or festive chickens. The Easter tree can be seen all over the country this time of year. Outside shop entrances, in peoples’ living rooms, outdoors in the neighbours’ gardens. It is a very popular decoration, probably because it brings colour at a time of the year when most flowers haven’t yet bloomed in Sweden.

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 of 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 dates from the 1600’s. Swedish people at this time were more pious, and used to take twigs and sticks and beat each other with 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?

Swedish Long Friday, English Good Friday

Today is Long Friday in Sweden, Good Friday in English-speaking countries. If you hold to the Christian belief, it’s the day Jesus was crucified on Golgata, outside of Jerusalem.

Why the differences in names for this day? In English-speaking countries, there are differences of opinions as to why it’s called Good Friday. Some people claim Good is an old English word meaning Holy – so Holy Friday. Others say it’s a development of the word God. And other theories say it is good because it is the day Jesus, dying on his cross, was victorious over sin, death and the devil and took upon him all the sins of Mankind. Heavy stuff.

In Sweden, it is called Long Friday as it was said to be a day of mourning for the long day of suffering that Jesus endured will being crucified.

In Sweden, as in the UK, today is a public holiday, people don’t need to dress in black anymore and all the shops and places of entertainment are open. Some people go to church, some paint eggs and decorate Easter trees, some prepare food for Easter Saturday.

I think it’s interesting to know the origins of our traditions. Often these origins are long forgotten. But understanding the history helps put things into perspective as we celebrate in the way we prefer, traditions that have been followed for centuries before and centuries to come.