Sunday, March 23, 2008

Glad Post*

*That's a (very) little Svengelska joke. The traditional Easter greeting here is Glad Påsk, and the 'å' is pronounced a lot like a long 'o' in English.

JoeIt's Easter, as I'm sure you've noticed, and an early one at that. Just about the earliest Easter there can be, and the earliest any of us likely to experience or have experienced (Easter hasn't fallen on it's earliest possible date, March 22, since 1818, and won't again until 2285). Which reminds me, Happy Easter Birthday, Aunt P.! It's going to be a long haul until the next one for you (2060, I believe), but take it from someone born on Modal Easter Day, it's not such a big thing.

Birthdays aside, Påsk is a pretty big deal in Sweden, as it turns out. Well, not so much the day itself, but it's the center of a four day national holiday: Långfredag, Påskaften, Påskdagen, and Annandag Påsk. It's a time for spring things here, just like everywhere, I suppose, specifically spring cleaning, airing out the country house, feeding the witches candy, changing the curtains to something flowery, decorating the house with birch twigs covered in colorful feathers, and eating turkey. Yes, you heard me right: turkey. Not a common bird here at all, but apparently something of a Påskaften dinner tradition, and Påskaften is the day for all the big Easter family celebrations here, not the day itself.

Right, so, witches. You see, the thing is, in Scandinavia, Easter is when all the witches go to meet the devil (or possibly Odin) at a place called Blåkulla. Since they are all on the road (as it were), there's a chance that one of them might decide to get off the broom for a while and stop by your place en route. The wisest course, as someone who doesn't want to be on the witches' bad side, is to have something handy with which to bribe them to leave you alone, and the most popular choice of bribes is sweets. Naturally, the children of Scandinavia, being a bright and enterprising lot, are not about to let such a golden opportunity pass them by; so, they traditionally dress up as witches and go door to door asking for candy. Let me emphasize hat last bit: asking. None of this, "Give me candy or I'll do something bad to your house," stuff here. In fact, when you give them candy, they are supposed to give you a Glad Påsk card in exchange. Oh, you're allowed to give them money instead, if you prefer. Say what you will about them, those witches are always practical.

Living as we do in a building of the more or less itinerant, we didn't actually get any Easter witches dropping by, but we armed ourselves with candy just in case. There's a lot of the stuff you'd expect, like peanut M&M things, and little fruit jellies, and gummy this and that, and chocolate covered marzipan. There's also a lot of marshmallow hens, and banana flavored slugs, and salted licorice so salty it burns the tongue (seriously, ouch!).

My favorite new Easter treat, though, has got to be Påskmust. This is a soda only available at Easter. Well, Easter and Christmas, because it's actually Julmust, and they just relabel it in the spring. Whatever you call it, it's sort of an unnatural cross between a Dr. Pepper and a Grape Nehi, which as long as you keep it really cold is quite tasty.

Another Påsk tradition we latched onto is that of Påsklillja, which despite the name are actually yellow daffodils. They're sold in grocery stores all over the place in the weeks leading up to Easter. Either we got a particularly prescient batch, or the Swedish florists really know what they're doing, because both pots of flowers we got waited until Easter morning to suddenly burst into bloom. On the other hand, they might have done a day earlier if Saturday hadn't been the coldest day of the winter for most of Sweden. For us, it alternated between glaring sunshine and near-whiteout-condition blizzard all day, with a low of -12° overnight. We headed out during one of the sunny bits to go and see the crocusses coming up all over the castle lawn, and to wander around the eerily deserted downtown area (most shops seem to close for the whole four days). Then it was home to shelter from the storm and have a dinner of Påskmust and Spaghetti Carbonara, followed by an encore presentation of "The Kipper and the Corpse."

By the way, if Swedish Easter traditions seem odd to you, check out this nugget from Wikipedia:
In Norway, in addition to cross-country skiing in the mountains and painting eggs for decorating, a contemporary tradition is to solve murder mysteries at Easter. All the major television channels show crime and detective stories (such as Agatha Christie's Poirot), magazines print stories where the readers can try to figure out who did it, and many new books are published. Even the milk cartons change to have murder stories on their sides. Another tradition is Yahtzee.

Oh, those wacky Norwegians! Well, I'm off to try to solve "The Mystery of the Bean Soup Recipe," and Jennifer, as you can see, is hard at work studying her Swedish. Happy Easter!

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