The Complete Guide to Scandinavian Easter—How to Celebrate Easter in the Nordics (Including a Few Recipes!)


Curious about how the Scandinavians celebrate Easter? Then this guide will give you a lowdown on Scandinavian Easter celebrations, including the delicious foods they indulge in!


Even if you’re a Scandinavian yourself, there are things you might not know…like the Norwegians’ obsession with Easter crime, the Swedes’ love of Easter witches, and the Danes’ tradition of sending rhymes and poetry for Easter! 


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The Origins of Scandinavian Easter

Easter in Scandinavia, like in many other countries, is a big holiday. Technically speaking, it’s the Christian tradition of commemorating the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, it’s also influenced by the Jewish pascha—the celebration of the Jews leaving Egypt.

Scandinavian Easter traditions are also influenced by pagan traditions of celebrating vårblot—when one gave thanks to the pagan gods for spring arriving and prayed for a good harvest. There are possible German/Anglo Saxon links to the goddess of Ēostre, which might explain some ties to rabbits and eggs (both signs of fertility though more about the eggs later as they also have ties to Christianity!).

Now that we’ve covered the origins of Easter, let’s look at the fun, weird, and even wicked Easter traditions in Scandinavia as well as, of course, the food! Because what would Easter in Scandinavia be without food? Not much, that’s what! 


Modern Scandinavian Easter Traditions

There isn’t a single homogeneous Easter tradition that covers all of Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland but rather each country—and sometimes different parts within the same country—have their own traditions. That said, there are a lot of similarities! 


Sweden—Påsk

If you arrive in Sweden for Easter you might think the Swedes have gone a bit crazy and are celebrating Halloween instead of Easter, because kids dress up as witches and go from door to door handing out Easter cards and are rewarded by candy and small change! 

This tradition has its roots in the 17th-century witch hunts, during which many women were executed. For some reason, it was thought that witches flew on their broomsticks to have a party with the Devil on Blue Hill (Blåkulla). Some believe this happened on Maundy Thursday (possibly because that’s the night Jesus was betrayed by Judas), others on Easter Day. 
Back in the day, to scare away the witches, people would light fires and shoot their rifles in the air. The former is thought to be a tradition coming to Sweden from the Netherlands. 

In the 19th century it became popular for youth to dress up as witches and play pranks on people and as we entered the 20th century the tradition changed so that kids dressed up as witches, walking from door to door handing out Easter cards, or letters, and in return getting candy or some small coins. 
This is also linked to a tradition of handing out anonymous Easter letters to friends and neighbors. 

Apart from the witches, Easter in Sweden is all about Easter eggs (from decorating real eggs to giving kids…and adults…eggs filled with candy), the Easter bunny, egg rolling (rolling hard boiled eggs down a hill to see which egg wins) daffodils, tulips, Easter candy, påskris (birch branches decorated with feathers), and a ton of Easter food and drink (more about that later!). The church also arranges various events and those who are religious might attend. 


Denmark—Påske


Gækkebreve (the name ‘gække’ refers to the snowdrop flowers—a sign of spring) are a Danish Easter tradition similar to the Swedish Easter letters, where children (and adults) create elaborate paper cutouts with poems inside. Signed only with dots for the sender's name (as many dots as there are letters in the name), a guessing game ensues as to who made it and the winner gets an Easter egg! 


The tradition dates back to the 16th century when it was more like love letters, but containing a riddle and a poem…and sometimes a snowdrop flower! 


Apart from that, the traditions are similar to those in Sweden. 


Norway—Påske


In Norway many people head off to the mountains for that one last skiing trip of the year, while others take time off to head south and bask in the sun. Notoriously, their favorite snacks to bring along are oranges and chocolate—Kvikk Lunsj bars (more about the oranges in the food section below).  


Back in the day, on Easter Sunday, people would hike to the top of the mountains to watch the sunrise. The weather that day was supposed to be an indicator of when summer would arrive and what it would be like weather wise. 

These days, Easter Sunday is more about a sumptuous breakfast with pancakes and eggs. 


On Good Friday in most Nordic countries, all entertainment used to be forbidden as it was a time to remember the suffering of Christ. While that’s no longer the case, in Norway they’ve removed commercials for regular enterprises to be aired on Good Friday. Instead, they air commercials for charities!


The long weekend is also perfect for reading…and what better to read than crime novels? Bookstores go nuts promoting “Easter crime” novels and TV channels join in with crime series and movies. This dates back to the 1920s when two writers concocted a crime novel that took place around Easter time. 


Finland—Pääsiäinen


In Finland, children dress up as witches and visit houses on Easter Saturday (or Palm Sunday in some areas). They bring decorated willow twigs to bless homes for a treat, chanting a rhyme that promises good luck. The rhyme often used goes like this: “Virvon, varvon, tuoreeks terveeks, tulevaks vuodeks; vitsa sulle, palkka mulle!” This translate to: “I wave a twig for a fresh and healthy year ahead; a twig for you, a treat for me!”

This tradition combines an old Orthodox ritual of laying down palms when Jesus entered Jerusalem, with a custom of warding off evil spirits (same as in Sweden).
In Finland families also tend to plant grass seeds in shallow dishes indoors to watch it grow; symbolizing the arrival of spring. This Easter grass is called rairuoho. This is also done in Sweden and the grass is often decorated with little chicks, bunnies, or eggs. Similarly, birch twigs are placed in water (and sometimes decorated with feathers, at least in Sweden) and you await the shoots (mouse-ear buds) to appear to symbolize the reawakening of life at springtime. 

Just like the rest of Scandinavia, the Finns like to decorate their houses with eggs, bunnies, and the likes and there is plenty of Easter candy. More about what’s eaten while celebrating Easter below. 


Scandinavian Easter Food

We don’t produce blue cheese because the green mold spreads very easily.”

Now, we’re getting to the crux of the matter: food. Easter wouldn’t be Easter without the food in Scandinavia. And while there are similarities among the different Scandinavian countries when it comes to Easter food, there are also some differences. 


Sweden—Påskmat

Fish and eggs are in focus for most people when serving Easter lunch, or dinner. 

Various forms of pickled herring, smoked and cured salmon, accompanied by potatoes and hard boiled eggs. This might be followed by meat dishes, such as meatballs, and cheese such as Västerbottensost. Usually there is also rye/dark bread to accompany the meal and some schnapps! 


Some Swedes also enjoy dishes made from lamb, which is an old Jewish tradition, as well as a symbol of Jesus being sacrificed (and while Easter today among Christians focus on the death and rebirth of Jesus, originally they had the same traditions as the Jews, also celebrating leaving the Jews leaving Egypt, so the two traditions intermingled). 


While there might not be traditional Easter dessert, marzipan figures (eggs and bunnies), as well as chocolate eggs (filled with marzipan, marshmallow, nuts, licorice, or plain chocolate) feature heavily among the treats eaten for Easter. 

Here the focus is instead on the traditional Easter smörgåsbord with herring, salmon, lamb, eggs and marzipan being the biggest stars. And of course with an occasional shot of aquavit. Swedes also like to drink påskmust—a form of soda similar to ginger beer. The one sold in the shops is made with malt and hops, but we scored an old recipe for making your own påskmust (found at the bottom of this blog). 


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Denmark—Påskemad

The food eaten in Denmark over Easter is similar to the food eaten in Sweden, though interestingly they have some old traditions that aren’t as much adhered to anymore. On Maundy Thursday you ate cabbage soup made with seven to nine different kinds of cabbage and mutton or pork (it was thought to be nutritious and guarantee good health). 


On Easter Saturday the Danes liked to do their spring clean for the year and ate “dirty eggs” (eggs with a mustard sauce). 


For the Sunday Easter lunch (påskefrokost), that is still very much happening, locals prepare lamb, boiled eggs, herring and other kinds of fish such as salmon. It is quite similar to the Swedish feast but of course the Danes also tend to do what they do best- put their food on bread. It is a law of nature that you cannot get Danes to eat a buffet without turning it into a veritable smørrebrød-feast, where every dish is eaten with a specific type of bread and specific trimmings. It is important to understand that white bread is for salmon and shrimp and dark rye bread for herring and anything with meat. 


Easter beer is a popular drink for Easter, very similar to Christmas beer.


Norway—Påskematen

 

In Norway the focus is mainly on two food items: lambs and….oranges. Oh and eggs, so make that three! 


As already mentioned, when heading to their “hytte” in the mountains to go skiing, the Norwegians like to pack Kvikk Lunsj bars (a chocolate produced since the early 1900s), and oranges. While it might seem bizarre to eat oranges around Easter (they’re out of season), it’s likely because back in the day the oceans remained frozen up until around Easter time. So that’s when ships would return with exotic products, like oranges. These days, about 20 millions of oranges are consumed for Easter every year in Norway! (And this is a country with a population of only about five million people!). 


Some Norwegians also like to bring dried or smoked lamb with them to their hyttes in the mountains. More often than not, a lamb roast is also served on Easter Sunday. 


Rakfisk is another Easter favorite. It’s a fermented fish dish made from trout. Rakfisk is traditionally served sliced on flatbrød or lefse and topped with raw onion, boiled potato, and sour cream. 


Lefse is a type of bread made from potatoes and flour. It is often served as a roll together with, for example, jam, cheese, sugar, or cinnamon. As mentioned previously, some Norweigians like a big breakfast for Easter Sunday, usually a breakfast centered around eggs.



Finland—Päsiäisruoka

Lamb is now the most important main course on the Easter table in Finland, usually served with peppermint jelly. A traditional Finnish Easter menu normally also consists of eggs, cheese, and blood sausage.

Mämmi is the star of the dessert table in Finland during Easter—a form of porridge made from rye flour and malted rye and sometimes flavored with orange peel. It might be served with milk, or cream. (Find a recipe at the end of the article). 
Mignon eggs are another sweet treat. Manufactured by Fazer, they use real eggs that have been cleaned and are then filled with chocolate, hazelnuts, and almonds. You have to peel them to eat them. 
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The Scandinavian Obsession with Easter Eggs

Why do Scandinavians and other people in the West consume so many eggs during Easter? Well, apart from being a symbol for spring and fertility, you weren't allowed eggs during Lent. So if you adhered to the rules of Lent (fasting for 40 day), you didn’t eat any eggs. Which meant that when Easter rolled around there were a lot of eggs on hand! The egg was also seen as a symbol of Jesus’ resurrection as it carried a new life within it. 


In the Middle Ages, people carried baskets of decorated eggs to church to be blessed by the priest. Coloring served to highlight the eggs' symbolic importance. These painted eggs were then given as gifts to loved ones and other important figures. Later in history, artificial eggs made of glass and porcelain became popular. Today, it is usually a paper egg filled with candy that we give away, but the tradition of decorating boiled eggs by painting them still lives on as a craft in Scandinavia.


It is believed that people in the Western World eat six million eggs per hour just on Easter Saturday and in Sweden 4,000 tonnes of eggs are eaten during the week of Easter.

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The Golden Egg

It’s not a secret that one of our favorite Swedish products is Kalix löjrom (Kalix roe). We simply love everything about it. The texture, the color, the history, everything. And as Swedes love hardboiled eggs topped with sourcream and roe, we’ve included a recipe below for eggs with Kalix löjrom—a popular addition to the Swedish Easter lunch or dinner. 

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Recipes

If you’ve been inspired by Scandinavian Easter you might want to try out some Scandinavian Easter recipes. And if you’re a Scandinavian yourself, perhaps you want to try a recipe from one of your neighbors? Enjoy!

Ciatonellis Meatballs
Our ambassador, Ciatonelli, presents her homemade meatballs - an absolute essential!

Ingredients
500 g ground beef, I used Angus ground beef from Bondens Skafferi.
20 g bread crumbs 
1 egg
1 tbsp cold water
Black pepper, salt and paprika after taste
1 yellow onion, 100g, minced
25 g of butter for searing

Brown sauce
2 dl heavy cream
1 tbsp of veal fond (Touch of taste)
1 tsp of soy sauce
2 tbsp of frozen lingonberries (Ica's ecological lingonberries) 

Pickled cucumber (Best to make 2 hours before serving) 
1 cucumber
1/2 dl ättika 12% or white vinegar
1 dl water
1/2 dl sugar
5 branches of fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 tsp of salt
Black pepper

1. Mix the bread crumbs with the water and the egg together, let's soak 5 minutes. Add the spices.
2. Mince finely the onion. 
3. Add the onions and the ground beef to the egg mixture.
4. Mix well with your hands until fully incorporated.
5. Taste the beef, add more salt and spices after taste.
6. Heat up your oven to 180 degrees. 
7. Roll the meat into small balls, (18 g is perfect for me) and place on a baking paper on a bake tray
8. Precook the meat balls 8 min. in the oven. This will help them to keep their shape. 
9. Sear the meatballs on medium heat with the butter until they have good color. 
10. Take away the meatballs, keep the grease from the meatballs, add the cream, the soy sauce and the veal fond. Reduce 10 min. Add the lingonberries. Reduce 2 minutes. Season with blackpepper and salt after taste. 

Pickled cucumber
1. Mix the water, sugar, ättika (vinegar), salt, black pepper and chopped parsley. 
2. Slice the cocumber finely on a kitchen mandolin. 
3. Add the cucumber to the vinegar mixture, place in the fridge until serving. 

I like to serve the meatballs with mashed potatoes, the sauce, lingonberries and the pickled cucumber. 

Eggs with Sourcream and Kalix Löjrom—a Nordic Delight
Ingredients

½ dl of gräddfil
sour cream or smetana
4 hard-boiled eggs
80 g Kalix löjrom
1 tbsp finely chopped chives
1 tbsp finely chopped red onion
a bit of dill on top

Instructions
1. Let the gräddfil (sour cream), or smetana drain in a coffee filter for approximately 20 minutes.
2. Peel the eggs and cut them in half with a sharp knife. Rinse the knife in cold water between use, and you will get clean cut surfaces.
3. Place the eggs on a serving plate. Place a tablespoon (perhaps a bit less) of sour cream or smetana on top of each egg, then top it off with a tablespoon of roe. 
4. Sprinkle with chives and red onion and garnish with a sprig of dill just before serving.

Mämmi—Finnish Rye Porridge

Enjoy this traditional Finnish dessert with a recipe from 196 Flavors

Ingredients
5¼ quarts water
½ teaspoon salt
3¼ cups malted rye flour (or other malt flour), sifted
8 cups rye flour , sifted
6 tablespoons orange zest
4 tablespoons caster sugar
3½ oz raisins (optional)

Instructions
Boil 4 cups (1 liter) of water in a large non-stick pan, and pour in a quarter of the rye flour and a quarter of the malted rye flour.
Mix gently, cover, and let stand.
Repeat until all the water and flour are used, mixing well each time.
Cover and let sit for 1 hour.
Pour the mixture into a large non-stick pan, and mix over low heat, stirring vigorously with a whisk for 25 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 330 F (165°C).

Add salt, raisins (optional), orange zest, and sugar to the mixture, and mix well.
Remove from the heat, and pour into a rectangular or square mold.
Bake for about 3 hours or until the mämmi is dark brown.
Mämmi is eaten sprinkled with sugar and drenched in whole milk or cream.

Påskmust—Swedish Non-Alcoholic Easter Beer

Påskmust and julmust are the same (i.e. the soda served for Easter is the same as the one served for Christmas, but the name changes). 

In the early 1900s, the Roberts family, father Robert and son Harry, dreamed up julmust in Örebro, Sweden. This sweet drink was their answer to a Christmas without beer, offering a festive, non-alcoholic option. While various companies now bottle julmust, the Roberts family remains the secret holder, still producing the unique syrup that gives the drink its flavor. The below recipe is a variant adopted for home brewing and does not contain malt or hops, but instead produces a fermented soda. 

Ingredients
Soda Starter:
5 dl water
2 tbsp finely grated ginger
1 tbsp raw sugar
1.5 tbsp granulated sugar
Julmust:
1 dl raisins
3 dried figs
4 prunes
1 dl finely chopped fresh ginger
1 dl dried and lightly crushed juniper berries
2 pieces of orange peel
2 mace flowers
3 cloves
10 green cardamom pods
2 star anise
5 cinnamon sticks
2 tsp citric acid
3.5 l water
400 g dark muscovado sugar (or raw sugar)
2 dl sodastart (see recipe)

Instructions

Soda Starter:
Stir together all ingredients in a well-cleaned glass jar or plastic container.
Cover with a thin kitchen towel and secure it with a rubber band. This allows the sodastart to breathe.
Let the jar stand for 4-6 days, preferably in a place that is slightly warmer than room temperature. This will speed up the process.
Stir 1-3 times a day.
Add 1 tsp grated ginger and 1 tsp raw sugar once a day to the mixture.
The sodastart is ready when you see bubbles on the surface and hear a hissing sound when you stir.
Continue to "feed" the sodastart daily with raw sugar and ginger so you can make more must later if you want.

Julmust:
Mix 1 liter of water with fruit, spices, and citric acid in a saucepan.
Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes.
Pour in the sugar and let it melt.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and add another 2.5 liters of water.
Cover the cooled saucepan with plastic wrap or a tight-fitting lid.
Let stand and infuse for about 12 hours.
Strain and mix in 2 deciliters of sodastart.
Cover and let rest with a cheesecloth in room temperature for 3-5 days.
On the third day, taste it. The fermentation "eats up" the sugar, so the longer the must stands and dies, the less sweet it will be. It should sound a little like soda when you stir, then the must is ready.
Pour into well-cleaned plastic or glass bottles.
The carbon dioxide will form naturally if you let the bottles stand at room temperature for 1-2 days.
To stop the fermentation, put the must in the refrigerator where it will keep for about a month.



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The Lazy Person's Guide to Scandinavian Easter

If you want to know all about Scandinavian Easter, but don’t have time to read a whole blog, here’s the lowdown! 

Easter in Scandinavia is a mixture of the old tradition of Jewish Pascha combined with the Christian commemoration of the death and resurrection of Christ, sprinkled with various pagan traditions that honor the arrival of spring. 

In parts of Sweden and Finland, kids dress up as witches and walk from door to door either blessing homes with willow twigs or handing out Easter cards in return for candy. This springs from the old belief that witches flew to Blue Hill during Easter to party with the devil, and people used to have bonfires and shoot rifles to scare them off!

In Denmark people send Easter poems or rhymes inside elaborate paper cutouts. Signed only with dots for the sender's name, people have to guess who sent it and, if correct, they get an Easter egg!

In Norway many people head to the mountains for the last time to ski before the snow melts. They also read crime novels and watch crime shows on TV due to two authors releasing a crime novel set at Easter time in the early 1900s.  

All over Scandinavia people decorate their homes with eggs, chickens, bunnies, daffodils, tulips, and twigs of willow and birch, sometimes decorated with colorful feathers (påskris). Easter eggs made of paper or plastic are filled with candy and handed to children (and adults). Marzipan in the shape of eggs and bunnies, as well as chocolate Easter eggs and marshmallows shaped as bunnies and eggs are eaten, too. In Finland they favor mignons—real eggs filled with a decadent chocolate filling (you need to peel them to eat them!). 

The Scandinavians go crazy for food during Easter, often eating herring and other types of fish served with eggs, rye bread, and potatoes, as well as a main dish of lamb. In Norway people eat a ton of oranges, and in Finland one likes to eat Mämmi—a sweet rye porridge. Easter beer is popular, particularly in Denmark, and in Sweden people like to drink påskmust—a form of non-alcoholic version of beer flavored with certain spices. Schnapps or aquavit often accompany Easter meals in the Nordics. 

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