Traditions are funny things. They are handed down from one generation to the next, often without an explanation of how the tradition originated. It’s just what you do. But when you are new to a country, those traditions are interesting to you and you want to know more about them. As for me, I was very curious about what the deal was with the birch branches with feathers tied on to them that come out just before Easter. You can buy the branches at the florist or grocery and then you put them in vases for decoration, just as you would with flowers. People in the suburbs tie feathers on to the branches of the trees in their yards as well. The colored feathers look festive on the bare branches and I bought some my first Easter here and then began asking some of my Swedish friends about them. But nobody really seemed to know much. Instead, my friends said getting the branches were just something they’ve always done at Easter. After getting over my surprise at their ignorance, I then realized that I could not explain why I grew up hunting for eggs on Easter morning.
So I did a little digging and found that the feather branches have their roots in Swedish folklore. Traditionally, Easter was thought to be the witches’ time and on Maundy Thursday, all the witches fly to Blåkulla (the Blue Mountain) to meet the devil. Out of these beliefs sprang the tradition of children dressing as witches by wearing long skirts, colorful headscarves and painting their cheeks with rosy circles. Much like Halloween, the kids then go door to door in their neighborhoods and hand out drawings and paintings in hope of collecting candy in return. Still another tradition is one where young people hit each other with birch twigs on the morning of Good Friday as a reminder of Christ’s suffering. Luckily, this tradition is not one that seems to be done anymore. Instead, you’ll find the much safer alternative of those feather-decorated birch branches. Now I suppose I need to find out why I grew up searching for eggs.