Here in Sweden, and all round Scandinavia, Easter has some added features and customs that bring another dimension to the Festival.
Because it can still be chillier than in Britain at this time, the hedges and bushes have quite sensibly delayed putting out lots of new shoots and growth. So, in order to brighten them up people add brightly coloured feathers to hedges to celebrate the imminent arrival of spring and rebirth.
The bright feathers dancing in the breeze are most often found on houses where there are smaller children and so these are also the houses that get visited by other children on Maundy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter).
And there is a very good reason for this visit, but curiously for a celebration that long pre-dates the normal Christian festivities. So let me take you back in time to a story that is now barely known outside Scandinavia.
Way way back in time, when winter seemed to last forever and the nights remained long and dark the imminent arrival of lighter nights and lots of sunshine was a great reason to celebrate. Even more important, the earth was just awakening after the long cold winter and it was getting ready to bring new crops to life once more.
Older Nordic Witches were happy to be returning to their summer homes
That was when the witches made their appearance. They were flying from their winter homes in the south back to their summer homes in the north. To the lands where they could be close to nature and could do what all good witches do – learn how to spell better!
Now the witches knew that when they finally got back to their northern homes they would have quite a lot to do in order to get things started again. For a start they would have to dust down all the cobwebs (for use in potions of course) and they would also have to get everything they needed for their summer spell sessions.
That meant that they wouldn’t have much time for going out to look for food, nor indeed would a lot of the berries and fruits be available for them anyway. Naturally a hungry witch is not a good thing and so people would be ready to help the witches on their way.
As they flew up to the north, the witches would keep an eye out for homes and farms that looked as though they had plenty to eat and drink and would drop in on them, literally!
“I’ve just dropped in to see if everything is alright,” was witch talk for “What have you got for me so that I will have plenty to eat and drink when I get up to my summer house!”
Sensible people always made sure that they had something for the witches, and indeed those were the ones who seemed to have better crops and more eggs for the rest of the year. Their cows gave lots more milk and it even seemed creamier and richer than the milk from farms where the witches had been given nothing at all!
A good housewife is always prepared for any guests who might just drop in, no matter how unexpectedly
I am not saying that there was any connection, but it would be a fool who failed to prepare for a visit from the witches. They always popped in unexpectedly, so it made sense to keep a little something to one side “just in case”!
Now the witches wanted to know where they would find most hospitality and used to leave bright markers that they could easily see the whilst they flew high across the sky. They carefully placed special feathers near their friends homes and farms and when they got close to them, the feathers would glow brightly so that they could be seen easily.
Over the years the feathers got brighter and brighter, but as soon as the witches had made their visit, the feathers would turn brown again and almost disappear from sight until they were needed for the next year.
And now, even centuries later, you can be sure of a warm welcome at houses where you spot any bright feathers around easter time. Which is why when children spot any feathers outside a house they rush up to the door and knock loudly. And once the home owner comes out, there are sweets and treats for everyone.
Of course it is not all one way traffic though. You see the Witches (or these days the young children) leave you something in return. In this case it was an Easter note, which we will keep safe. After all you never know when a real witch might turn up and ask us if we have proof of our kindness!
Just like the witches who used to visit, the children somehow make the lives of everyone in the welcoming house much better for the rest of the year. Yes, this way everyone wins from being kind and hospitable and welcoming. Something that would be good for the rest of the world to copy!