Feathers, colors, and other unusual Easter traditions

omslag påskekrim 2012.indd

Photo: kvadrat.no

Rønningen Ramblings with Heidi Håvan Grosch brings you an insider’s perspective on some of the more interesting Norwegian Easter traditions

I asked some of my Norwegian co-workers what came to mind when they thought about påske (Easter), and the first thing they said was…yellow. Yes, the color yellow, and I think I understand why. Stores are filled with yellow candles, yellow chicks and yellow table runners. People hang up their spring curtains (if they don’t have yellow Easter ones) and løvetan (dandelions) and yellow hestehov are popping up along side purplish blåveis and all kinds of spring bulbs (including yellow daffodils / påskeliljer). I wonder why yellow is so important this time of year… Is it because the sun is returning (for which we are glad) or the anticipation of all the new life that appears in the spring (including young yellow chicks)?

It is also traditional for Norwegians to buy birch branches with colorful feathers tied to them (fastelavnsris) at the beginning of Lent; these stay up the entire season. I have heard that things tied to branches brought into the home has long been a common custom in many parts of Europe, and in pagan times Norwegians brought branches into the house to invite in the smell of spring – a season of renewal and fertility. In more recent history (1896) the Norsk sanitetsforening (Norwegian women’s humanitarian organization / www.sanitetskvinnene.no) started selling branches with feathers as a fund-raising venture for humanitarian causes, going door to door. Everyone knows this is coming, and there are few Norwegian households without a bouquet sitting on a table somewhere in their home. Set them in a vase of water and when they bud, spring (vår) is just around the corner…

Crime novels (påskekrim) are also all the rage during påske. Libraries sell used ones, bookstores put them in window displays, and there are versions in magazines, on the radio and on TV. People read paperback versions as fast as one might go through a box of Christmas chocolates and no hytte (cabin) tour is complete without at least one book to read.

A few years ago the Aftenposten newspaper gave a bit of background about where the fad to read crime novels during Easter may have come from. It was 1923, they write, and two young authors (Nordahl Greig from Bergen and Nils Lie) were told they should write a crime novel to make some money. Papers advertised their Palm Sunday release with the headine “Bergen train plundered in the night,” and people actually thought the train was robbed. Since then, the sales of crime novels during påske have skyrocketed. If it has a good plot, characters people can identify with and a riddle that can be solved, it will find its way into the hands of eager readers. (www.aftenposten.no/nyheter/iriks/article3586645.ece#.T3HlTBzu61Y)

Påske quizzes in the newspaper or in magazines are also a Norwegian Easter tradition, and it is not uncommon to see families sitting around the dinner table (something that is rare on normal occasions as Norwegians are apt to rise from the table when the meal is done to retire to the living room for coffee and dessert), asking each other questions. There are some online if you want to try; just Google “påskequiz.”

This article originally appeared in the April 6, 2012 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.