~* Easter in the old days *~

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Originally, Easter was a Jewish tradition. About two thousand years ago, the Jews were slaves in Egypt, and they celebrate Easter in memory of leaving Egypt and going to what is now Israel. In Sweden Easter is called 'Påsk' and the word probably originates from the Hebrew word 'pesach'.

Later on Christians started to celebrate Easter too - here in Sweden in the 12th century. To Christians Easter commemorate how Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected. Jesus was described as the Lamb sacrificed by God, so lamb is traditional food at Easter in Sweden.

Eggs are common in Easter traditions all over the world. They are a symbol of growth and life that reawakens in nature after the long winter. When Sweden was a Catholic country, Easter was preceded by 40 days of fast. During that time, people were not allowed to eat eggs, cheese, milk or meat. It's not surprising that when the hens began to lay eggs again and the fast was over, eggs were a popular feature at the Easter festivities.

In the *really* early days, long before Sweden became a Christian country, there were wise old women and men ('witches') who were thought to cure deseases, bring luck or cast evil spells on people and animals. Some people thought that the witches, with the help from a 'milk hare', were able to steal milk from other people's cows. This is probably the origin of the Easter bunny ('påskhare' in Swedish) which brings children their Easter eggs nowadays.

In Europe in the 15th century (in Sweden mainly in the 17th century), people started to believe that witches were in contact with the Devil. The Church and special witchhunters captured people who were said to be witches, and sometimes tortured them and in other ways forced them to 'confess'. Many alleged witches were burnt to death or drowned during these witchhunts.

When it was at it's worst, children accused their parents, neighbours each other... It was an easy way to get rid of enemies. People thought that the witches flew to Blåkulla (Blue Hill) on Broomsticks to meet with the Devil on Skärtorsdagen (Maundy Thursday). Black cats symbolized the Devil, and some people thought that witches could transform themselves into cats.

Witches were believed to go to Church on Easter Day like everyone else, but they were saying the prayers backwards... Witches still hang around in Swedish Easter traditions, but nowadays we call them ’Easter hags’ (Påskkärringar) and don't fear them anymore. :o)

As a reminder of Christ's suffering on the cross, on Good Friday ('långfredag') the master of the house would beat the children and the servants with bunches of birch twigs (fortunately, that is forbidden nowadays). In the early days, people also used to hit one another with the twigs in spring. But the twigs were then green with leaves and the intent was to wish one another happiness and fertility.

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