Easter in Norway is a time of renewing. Spring is in the air and the sun has returned. New life creeps into the landscape, homes are redecorated with Summer colours and Norwegians enjoy the outdoors with snow activities. This time of year marks the end of the long Winter.
Symbols of Easter
Chickens and eggs are the usual symbols of a Norwegian Easter. The egg symbolises rebirth and the chicken has been a symbol of fertility since ancient times. Yellow is the most traditional colour of Norwegian Easter. Lush green is also popular as it symbolises life and growth. Because of Lent and the crucifixion of Christ, purple and red are used by the Church.
Carnival – Karneval
In Norway there is a slow run up to the Easter celebrations. Carnival is the first event and is the Sunday to Tuesday before the fast season. It is called fastelaven, ‘eve of the fast’. It is now a children’s celebration with parties and fancy dress costumes in schools and kindergartens. However, in old Catholic tradition in Norway, before the reformation, carnival was the last feast before Lent. Carne- vale, meaning ‘meat good-bye’, was a time to indulge before the fast. People wore masks and costumes and paraded in the street before stuffing themselves silly with rich foods. However, after Norway became Protestant, the holiday lost its religious meaning.
Fastelavensboller, (bread buns) are popular to make at this time. They are traditionally boller with butter and sugar but today it is usual in some places in Norway to have sugar-coated donuts. In pagan times the Norse put up birch trees inside the house to invite the smell of Spring. The Norske sanitetsforening, a Norwegian women’s humanitarian organisation founded in 1896, renewed the tradition by selling birch twigs with feathers attached to raise money for their charity. Nowadays feathered birch twigs are a decorative feature in the Norwegian home.
Lent – Fasten
Even though Lent is of Catholic tradition, Norway still recognises it – not as a religious celebration, but as the time before Easter.
Palm Sunday – Palmesondag
This day is in celebration of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. New birch tree twigs are brought into the house (as there are no palm trees in Norway). These twigs are for Easter decorations – hanging ornaments, especially painted eggs. In Southern Norway the new twigs have lovely furry buds on the ends, however, in the North, the buds are waiting for warmer weather before coming out. Palm Sunday marks the start of the Norwegian Easter Holidays.
This is a usual time for people to start to decorate their homes for Easter. Summer curtains are hung (if it hasn’t been done already), table clothes, oven mittens and wall hangings, all with the colours of Easter are placed around the house. Easter crafts are a usual activity – painting and decorating eggs, making paper baskets and cards, and sewing or knitting Easter ornaments. Yellow candles are very popular and so are yellow flowers such as daffodils and tulips. It is not really a time of cooking or baking as the Winter stores are traditionally low due to the long Winter.
Wednesday before Easter
Wednesday is the last day of work and some shops and businesses close early. There is usually a mad dash for the local liquor store as these stores have to close for the whole long weekend. (This year, even the national radio was doing a countdown to when the liquor stores close – making everyone nervous.) The shopping centres are packed with people getting their last supplies for Easter. Many people go on holiday to påskefjellet, ‘the Easter mountain’ – their mountain cabins, camping or skiing. At this time of year the Winter weather is stable with lots of snow and good sunshine so it is perfect for Winter sports. Those who have an Easter at home have a bypåske, city Easter.
The crime story genre is a tradition at Easter in Norway. Each year, nearly every TV channel produces a crime miniseries for Easter. The milk company prints crime stories/brain teasers on their cartons. They are very family friendly with accidental mischief – this year I think the dog did. Easter TV quizzes are also common.
Sami Easter festival
During the Easter long weekend the Sami in Kautokeino, Northern Norway, hold their annual Sami Easter Festival. The festival is a showcase of Sami life and includes the Sami Music Festival, the World Reindeer Racing championships and the Sami Film Festival.
Easter Thursday – Skjærtorsdag
Skjær means ‘cleansing’ and comes froms the Norse word ‘skíra’. The Easter public holidays start on Thursday in Norway. All the stores and businesses are closed from this day. The Church celebrates the sacrament and the last supper of Jesus Christ and his disciples. For Catholics, this ends the 40 day fast.
Good Friday – Langfredag
This day is generally a quiet day. In old Catholic tradition, meat is not to be eaten and a quiet reverence should be kept. Good Friday is one of the three days a year the TV stations don’t put commercial ads on TV – they show charity ads instead.
In Oslo, the Church City Mission arranges a korsvandring, ‘cross wandering’ through the streets. The procession starts at the Oslo Cathedral and stops at certain places such as parliment, the newspaper street, the court house, etc, for reading of texts, praying and singing. The procession follows a person with a huge wooden cross. People take shifts carrying the cross (which is on wheels) and some people carry their own small cross. The procession ends at the St Olav Catholic Church where the cross is decorated with red flowers.
Easter Saturday – Påskeaften
Easter Saturday is also called ‘Easter Eve’. This is not a public holiday, however, the shops close early and there is little activity. The day is normally celebrated with outdoor activities or quietly at home.
In a lot of communities, skiing competitions are organised for school children. They can have biathlons with throwing snowballs instead of shooting rifles, clue hunts through the forrests and the regular races like down hill, cross country and ski jumps. Some families have Easter egg hunts on this day, but traditionally this activity is left to Sunday.
Påskelam, Easter lamb, is a traditional dinner on Easter Saturday. The lamb is etter alle kunstens regler, cooked by all the rules of art. It is made with all the trimmings. The Church arranges Påskenattmesser, midnight mass, to welcome in Easter Sunday.
Easter Sunday – Påskedag
In old times, people would climb mountains on Easter Sunday morn to watch the sunrise as they thought the sun danced with joy for the resurrection of Christ. It is suggested that this could have started the Norwegian habit of ‘going up the mounatins’ at Easter time. This day was also a day to predict the weather for the Summer. If it was a good day then the Summer would be good too. If there was frost the night before the Sunday then the Summer would come late. For some reason, the Bunad is not worn during Easter.
Easter Sunday breakfast is a grand affair. Anything and everything is put on the table, cured meats and especially eggs – boiled, scrambled, fried, (and even fish eggs!), you name it. The boiled eggs are often dyed or painted before eating. Traditionally the Winter stores are low from the long Winter, so there is not much cooking or baking, especially compared to Christmas time. However, egg dishes are in abundance, especially when there has been a lot of egg decorating with lots of leftover whites and yolks. Pancakes are also a popular treat at Easter.
The Easter egg hunt is a common tradition around the world and in Norway children look for a brightly decorated paper eggshell filled with small lollies. The eggs used to be real chicken eggs (as they used to be in abundance during the old Catholic times as they were not to be eaten during Lent) before changing to chocolate eggs and then paper eggs filled with chocolate. The Easter Bunny is a new addition to the Norwegian Easter due to commercial advertisement and TV programs. Traditionally, it is the chicken and egg that is the symbol of Easter in Scandinavia. The hare has been a symbol of fertility, like the chicken, however, it is only recently that the Bunny has brought chocolates.
Easter Monday – Andre påskedag
The second day of Easter is Monday. It is the end of the Easter holidays and is about cleaning, clearing and returning home (including sitting in traffic jams), ready for the second half of the semester.