A Swedish Easter Rite Is Fading Away

By Emelie Pettersson

In Sweden, brooms are sold during the Easter season to accompany children's costumes on Maunday Thursday. Photo by Emelie Pettersson
In Sweden, brooms are sold to accompany the children’s costumes during the Easter season.
Photo by Emelie Pettersson

For centuries, during celebrations of Easter, Swedish children would rush home from school on Maundy Thursday, three days before Easter, in joyful anticipation. They would change and then flood the streets, dressed as beldams, or witches, ringing doorbells of neighbors’ houses. When the door opened, they would hold out homemade cards with pictures of chicks and eggs and scream, “Happy Easter!” They would hold out pots and with smiles, receive little gifts, usually candy, sometimes money.

The Easter ritual in Sweden, similar to Halloween trick-or-treating, now seems to be fading away, losing ground to modern fears and modern technology.

Moa Ney, a nurse in Stockholm, joined her nephews for the traditional Easter hunt this year and said the increase in entry codes at doors to apartment buildings made it difficult for the children to hunt outside their own neighborhoods.

“When I was a kid we always went as a group of friends,” said Ney. Parents never participated, but now more parents are worried about what might happen to their children in other neighborhoods.

While there haven’t been any reported crimes involving Easter hunts, Ney remembered a case in which a 10-year-old girl, Engla Juncosa-Höglund, was brutally murdered by a pedophile in 2008. She believes the murder made parents more cautious and careful.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, witch-hunts were rampant in Europe. Women accused of being witches would be burned at the stake if they didn’t pass one of the arbitrary tests that could “prove” their innocence.

In Sweden, townspeople also believed that on Maundy Thursday the witches would take off on their brooms to celebrate covenant with the devil at Blåkulla, where he resided. The public would light bonfires in an effort to scare off the witches and protect their children from being kidnapped by them. Although, the majority of the Swedish population is Evangelical Lutheran and has been since the Reformation, they have learned to have a bit of fun with the once-feared folklore.