On Norwegian Easter food traditions

Tis the season for rakfisk, lamb, oranges, eggs of all kinds, and of course Kvikk Lunsj!

Photo: Pixabay
Norway doesn’t have an Easter Bunny, but branches, colorful spring flowers, and eggs are all part of the holiday.

Whitney Love
Stavanger, Norway

The days are getting longer, the sun shining brighter, and the flowers have started sprouting—clear evidence that spring has arrived in Stavanger. With spring comes Easter, one of the most celebrated holidays in the Norwegian calendar. In fact, Norway has the longest official Easter holiday in the world.

Maundy Thursday, also known as Good or Holy Thursday, begins the holiday. This day is commemorated as the day of the last supper Jesus had with the disciples before his crucifixion, and in Norway it’s a public holiday. The following day, Good Friday, is also a public holiday, which means schools, commerce, and shopping are all closed. Holy Saturday is the last calendar day before Easter Sunday. The Monday after Easter Sunday is also a public holiday in Norway, which means every year the entire country quite nearly shuts down from Thursday to Monday in celebration of the Easter tradition.

Easter is marked by the color yellow in Norway, and all packaging for Easter-themed products in Norway is yellow. Norwegians tend to use yellow candles and napkins to dress their Easter breakfast and dinner tables too. Yellow flowers, especially tulips and daffodils, are used as decoration and given as small gifts between family and neighbors. Norwegians also use birch tree twigs and branches for Easter decorations by hanging Easter ornaments, feathers, and painted eggs from them while displaying them in their homes.

Norwegians love crime and detective novels year-round but especially during Easter. While many read books to feed their crime story obsession, during Easter it is also nourished by movie marathons, crime stories on public radio stations, and crime series broadcasts on television. Norway’s obsession with crime and detective novels during Easter began in 1923 by a Norwegian publisher.

For some, Norwegian Easter means skiing and going to the cabin, and for most it means time to visit with family and enjoy Easter food traditions. Take note of these before the holiday begins on April 13.

• A very traditional Easter supper eaten throughout most of Norway is rakfisk, not lamb or ham. Rakfisk is a fermented fish dish made from trout. Rakfisk is traditionally served sliced on flatbrød or lefse and topped with raw onion, boiled potato, and sour cream.

• Although eating lamb during Easter has biblical roots and lamb is a symbol of both Christ and spring, lamb is a more recent addition to the Norwegian Easter tradition. Most of the lamb served in Norway during Easter is imported from abroad or frozen Norwegian lamb from the previous year’s yield. Due to the long and dark winters in Norway, the gestation period for sheep is delayed. Thus most lambs are not large enough to slaughter in time for Easter.

Rogaland county is especially known for its lamb and many estimate that there may be more sheep and lamb living in the area than people. There are several farms raising lamb all over Rogaland county, but special attention must be paid to the lambs grown in Rennesøy and Kvitsøy due to history and the unique taste of lambs raised near the sea.

• Norwegians eat 20 million oranges during Easter every year. Some believe the tradition of eating oranges during Easter in Norway began because of merchant ships returning to Norway during Easter time with the year’s first harvest from southern Europe. Also, as oranges are high in vitamin C, they are quite appreciated after the long, dark winter.

• Norway does not have the Easter Bunny tradition as enjoyed in the U.S. Instead, Norwegians celebrate Easter chickens and eggs. Eggs are a symbol of rebirth and chickens are a symbol of fertility, which is why both are symbols of Easter in Norway. Eggs are prepared in a variety of ways and egg-based dishes are common during Easter.

• The most popular chocolate eaten during this time of year is the iconic Kvikk Lunsj.

Kvikk Lunsj was created in 1937 and has been in production every year since, excluding 1941 to 1949 due to the Second World War. It’s reported that Norwegians eat on average nine Kvikk Lunsj a year, three during the Easter period. (For a creative way to start on your year’s consumption of Kvikk Lunsj, enjoy my recipe on the opposite page!)

• Some Norwegian families enjoy a long and bountiful Easter breakfast or brunch on Easter Sunday, while others enjoy a plentiful dinner. Easter breakfast includes a varied and semi-luxurious offering of different types of bread, cheese, ham, spreads, seafood products, and of course lots of eggs.

This article originally appeared in the April 7, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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