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?

What the f***! Was moving to Sweden a mistake?


I clearly remember thinking this to myself on May 13th 1995.  

I was at the airport waiting for a flight to London – my first visit home after moving to Sweden the previous autumn. 
Over the loudspeaker I heard an announcement. My flight was delayed. Due to snow. Yes, snow! Outside the window, snow billowed down on the runway and visibility was limited. In May! ‘What the f***!?’ I recall thinking. ‘Is this what it’s like here? I think I might have made a massive mistake moving here’. Eventually the flight took off and I landed two hours later in the British capital. There, in London, the sun was shining and people were walking around in shorts, t-shirts and shades. This, of course, cemented my concern. 

Now it seems as if history might be repeating itself. Yesterday it snowed in Stockholm. And haled. In May. Ok, not May 13th. But May 9th! Today more snow is forecast. And I am wondering if we’re going to break my 1995 record for the latest snowfall in Stockholm!? (Although the actual record seems to be June 12th in 1982). 

But I have learned something after 20 years in Sweden. If there is one thing we can rely on, it is that the weather does change. Have faith! The claws of winter are soon released and spring will finally and definitively be upon us. 

Sweden’s fickle weather Gods

aprilväder

Living in a country with such distinct seasons, the subject of the weather is always up for discussion. In Sweden, there is a concept known as ‘aprilväder’ or April weather. This term describes the unpredictability and fickleness of the Nordic weather gods in the month of April.

Just in the few minutes I have been sitting here looking out of my window, the sun has been shining, it has snowed, the sun has shone again, it has clouded over and got windy and then snowed again. A week ago it was around 15 degrees celsius. Now it’s around 4.

April is often a frustrating month for Swedes.

Periods of sunny, warming weather tantalise the nation and lull them into a false sense of security. Once people have put away their winter coats and folded their thick jumpers up onto the top shelf, the snow hits again and ice forms on roads. Cars with their summer tires slip and slide along and people in their short, thin spring jackets freeze, get a cold and have to call sick in to work.

You’d think we’d be used to it by now. But no. It seems to be an annual phenomenon. Maybe it’s a reflection of that most human of emotions – hope. Every year we hope that the spring has finally arrived. And usually those hopes are dashed in a flurry of snow and a plummet of the themometer.

And as I sit here and look out, it has started snowing yet again. The warm weather seems very far away.

But hope lives on and I console myself that with every snowflake that falls, we are one snowflake closer to Spring!

Swedes! Where’s your barbecue?!

DST_Countries_Map

This weekend in Sweden, the clocks went forward one hour to Summer Time. Despite the occasional complainer who moans about losing an hour’s sleep, this is usually received very positively in the country. Suddenly,  the light at 6pm becomes the light at 7pm. People are happier, daylight is longer, people venture outside to enjoy the burgeoning spring.

So why do we do this? There are clear benefits, but where does it come from? The practice was first initiated during World War I to give more light for agriculture and other important societal functions. However it was abandoned shortly afterwards, only to come back during World War II.

It was never very popular and by the 1950’s it had again been cancelled. However come the 1960’s, it was reintroduced in many countries due to the energy crisis – the lighter evenings required less electricity.  In 1981, the EU legislated Summer Time in Europe requiring member states to decide particular start and end dates for Summer Time which varies in the different countries.

In Sweden, Summer Time was originally introduced on 15 May 1916 but then took it away. In 1980, Summer Time has been observed every summer in Sweden starting on the last Sunday in March and ending on the last Sunday in October.

In Europe, there are 4 countries that do not switch to and from summer time. They are Belarus, Russia, Iceland and, since 2016, Turkey.

Around the world, there are various countries observing the switch. In USA, they refer to this as ‘Daylight saving time’ but it is not used in all states. In the picture above, blue and orange represent the countries that switch to and from summer time (nothern hemisphere summer and southern hemisphere summer). Dark grey have never used daylight saving time and light grey have formally used daylight saving time.

Remembering when to turn the clocks back and forward is sometimes a challenge to remember. In English, the saying ‘Spring forward, Fall back’ was developed to help jog people’s memories. Even the expression ‘March forward’ is used as a reminder.

So what do they say in Swedish? Well, they refer to the popular summer activity of barbecuing. Many Swedes who live in houses, or have a summer house, own a barbecue. In the summer they use it, and in the winter it is safely kept in storage.

So the Summer Time saying?

‘In spring we put forward (English: out) the barbecue, in the autumn we put back the barbecue’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swedish sunflowers

sunflowers

Sunflowers might not be the first thing you think of when you think of Sweden. But at this time of year, the place is full of them. Well, not really sunflowers per se, but a type of sunflower.

The fantastic thing about sunflowers, apart from their brash yellow colour and the flocks of buterflies that they attract, is the way in which they move. Their big, open faces look up at the sky, reaching for the light, and when the sun is out the sunflower moves its face to follow the its path across the sky. They really enjoy soaking up the rays of light and the warmth that the sun provides. It’s a fantastic sight to behold as you drive through the countryside in France or Italy.

But we’re not in France or Italy, we’re in Sweden. So what has this got to do with Sweden then?

Well, Swedes are like sunflowers.

Confused? Let me explain.

After a long, dark, cold winter, Spring eventually arrives.  This year, it seemed to arrive yesterday. Temperatures soared to 17 degrees celcius, the sky was blue and people hit the streets and the parks. Everybody emerged from their winter hybernation.

They sat on park benches, on blankets, on window ledges, on balconies. They leaned up against sunny walls. And as they sat there, they lifted their faces, just like sunflowers, to face the sun and to feel the warming rays of light on their pale wintery skin. Sometimes people just stopped randomly on street corners and lifted their faces up to the sun, eyes closed, to soak up the light.

So you see, Swedish sunflowers are the Swedes themselves. And you’d be hard pushed to find a more sun-worshipping, thankful population at this time of the year.