skärtorsdagen = Maundy Thursday

I'm always curious about holidays in Sweden, and Easter is no exception. If I tried to write about this, you'd think I was making things up- witches, and feathers, and cute kids galore. So I'll reprint an article about what Maundy Thursday usually entails in Sweden below.

Skansen, the open air museum is still open, with free admission for kids who dressed as a witch today. These are rather cute witches; photos below from Skansen's website.

Easter at Skansen | Skansen Calendar | Skansen

We didn't go- still avoiding crowds for obvious reasons. Skansen is asking its patrons to stay as far apart as they would from a moose- seems like a reasonable distance.

This is also the day that one is supposed to put out birch bark branches with little feathers on them; photo from this site.

Easter in Stockholm (2012)

Article reprint:

Swedish word of the day: skärtorsdagen
Today, let's talk about the Swedish word for the day when witches fly away to dance with the devil.
Wait, what?

The word is skärtorsdagen, which can be more simply translated as Maundy Thursday – the Thursday before Easter. In 2020, that's April 9th.

Torsdag is the Swedish word for Thursday. Like the English word and most of the Nordic languages, this comes from the Norse God Thor, in contrast to the Romance languages where the name for Thursday usually derives from the Latin dies Jovis (Jupiter's Day).

According to folklore, Thursday was the day of the week most closely associated with witchcraft and magic. Maundy Thursday in particular was known as the day when witches would fly off to the mythical Blåkulla to dance with the devil. Swedes would often hide their household brooms so they couldn't be stolen by any witches, and use other methods to stop them entering their homes, such as painting crosses on the door.

Since around the 1800s, it's been a Swedish tradition for young children to dress up as witches (often with a broomstick, cat and coffee pot as accessories) around the Easter holiday, known as påskkärringar or 'Easter hags', and knock on neighbours' doors to ask for sweet treats.

Of course, this tradition is highly discouraged this year to avoid spreading the coronavirus, with Prime Minister Stefan Löfven telling children and parents to "leave the broomstick in the car park".

But as for where the word skärtorsdagen comes from, it's actually related to the Christian tradition.

Christians mark Maundy Thursday as the day when Jesus Christ had his final meal with his disciples and washed each of their feet, an important cleansing ritual which plays a big part in the religion today – 'maundy' comes from a word meaning 'foot-washing'.

Skära means 'to cut' in today's Swedish, but several centuries ago it referred to cleaning or purification, from an older Norse word that meant 'clean/beautiful/pure', and that's where the name of the celebration comes from. Another place you'll see skär used in this sense is in another religious term, Skärselden, which means Purgatory (the place where, in Christian belief, souls undergo purification before they can ascend to heaven).

Although skärtorsdagen hasn't been a public holiday in Sweden since 1772, some workplaces allow employees to leave early.
Skärtorsdagen är en av årets största trafikdagar
Maundy Thursday is one of the busiest days of the year for traffic

Systembolaget är öppet som vanligt på skärtorsdagen
Systembolaget is open as usual on Maundy Thursday

[My note- good to know that you can still buy alcohol at systembolaget, the state run liquor store. My second note is that people were definitely headed to the grocery store in droves. I'll wait].