Thursday, April 17, 2014

Sweden's Unique Easter!

Sweden’s Unique Easter Tradition’s History and Customs Celebrated Today

By Carol Skog

In Sweden, what do head scarves, birch branches, rosy cheeks, or eggs, long skirts, daffodils or brooms, feathers, copper coffee pots, all have in common with witches, yellow, and bonfires? All form cultural elements of Swedish traditional Easter customs. Certain parts of Swedish Easter celebrations may appear strange. Let us explore how Swedish folklore beliefs and the Christian faith used these items combined, creating a completeness of Swedish Easter customs.

Swedish Pagan Vikings converted slowly to the Christian faith. These converted Norsemen blended some accepted ancient ceremonies mingled with folklore beliefs. These customs developed into some Easter Christian celebrations, still enjoyed today. Swedish people tenaciously hold appreciative their festive traditions, some over hundreds of years. Family bonds important, young children inclusive of elderly adults together ritualistically embrace their long enjoyed heritage customs into contemporary Sweden’s Easter fests.

Harbingers of earth’s awakening, springs’ renewal, refreshed, rejoiced. Pagans gathered winters’ downed forest branches, piling them high into mounds. Igniting tar-mounded bonfires, cleansed all woodland’s debris. Ancient mingling of pagan behaviors and Christian observances blended the Swedish folk custom of the stack’s burning. Folklore believed, the large burning stack, chased, warded evil away from Easter. Bonfires’ burning continues, in modern Western Sweden’s celebration of Easter today.

Swedish folklore believed witches possessed evil powers. In an Uppland, Sweden’s church, a painting from 1480 depicts three witches holding drinking horns, awaiting the devil’s filling them with a magic drink. During the 1600’s through early 1700’s, villagers identified many Swedish women as witches, as we did in America; well know for our Salem Witch Trials. Swedish Folklore witches harmoniously mingled within Easter Christian celebrations.

For the entire week before Easter, formally known as Quiet or Holy week, folk beliefs thought witches evil came astir. Superstitious people guarded, hid their broomsticks-after every use, preventing witches from stealing them. Witches rode out of chimneys on broomsticks high into the sky, with a black cat, copper coffee pot on Maundy Thursday. Flying higher to Blåkulla, witches partied, danced, three days with the devil, led by the cacophony, chatter, crackles of black magpies. Dancing faster, drove witches dizzy, resulting in doing or saying things backward. Doing or reciting things backward, then considered a test, proving one a real witch. Folklore claimed real witches, could appear as they were actually in their homes, when they really flew off to Blåkulla for the three days proceeding into Easter.  Evidence as a witch identified a woman, when she did or stated something backward.

Since early 1800’s children drew Happy Easter (Glad Påsk) cards for their neighbors. Dressed up in long colorful skirts, cheeks colored with red circles and noses speckled dotted freckles, their tied scarves cover their heads, and shawls cover their shoulders. Riding on their mother’s brooms, they carried their Easter drawn cards and copper coffee pots, portraying Easter Witches (Påskkärringar). Greeted their neighbors with a “Happy Easter” drawing, their neighbors gave them a coin, candy or small cookies, placed in their carried copper coffee pot. In the 1800’s young boys dressed up as tamps and followed their påskkärringar dressed up sisters for neighbors’ shared goodies. Today Swedish girls still playfully dress up as Easter witches; sometimes-young boys masquerade as witches with their sisters, sometimes as tramps on Maundy Thursday.

On Good Friday people in the 1600’s used birch branches to whip one another; lightly sometimes child to parent, parent to child and/ or servants, reminding them of Christ’s sacrificial sufferings. Uses of birch branches evolved into heralds of earth’s spring awakening, or symbolic spiritual renewal. Know as Easter Twigs (Påskris), people gathered branches from birch trees, brought them inside and placed them in vessels of water, weeks before Easter, decorated vibrant with yellow feathers. Hope and time bursts gentle green leaf shoots from the branches, renewal, rebirth, rejoice. People today may buy branches decorated with colorful feather at the markets, or cut and decorate their own birch branches with feathers, decorated eggs or small Easter witch (påskkärring) riding ornaments. (Some people have used forsythia branches for decorations, when birch branches are not available.

Historically, the last day before Lent only, a special cardamom bun,” Semla” filled with marzipan and whipped cream relished once only, before 40 days of fasting strict diets.  When I attended school in Sweden, they served the adored bun every Tuesday through Lent. Today Swedes eat scrumptious Semlor buns, mid January through Easter.

Lent diets consisted only of hard thin bread, dried fish and potatoes. Allowed again, spring eggs gave abundant enjoyment at Easter. Hard boiled in water with onion slices turned the eggs a golden yellow. Diet is not restrictive today through Lent.

Vibrant yellow uplifts, after a long, dark, cold winter, color of sun’s warm rays, and baby chicks fill springtime anew. Easter morning happily, allows eggs eaten in abundance, round filled yellow sun resembled yolks. Today eggs still eaten and relished, in various forms, found on all Easter meals’ table. Eggs now decorated varieties of colors, purple, yellow, blue, red, most cheerful. A family game, “ägg pickning,” still enjoyed. Two players face each other, holding their hard-boiled eggs, only allowed “end against end.” Each takes one turn banging their opponent’s egg held still, then the other tries. The person’s egg first cracked is out. Winners with un-cracked eggs can then play against family members, already won their un-cracked egg remaining, against each other until all eggs crack.

Today Easter’s dinner enjoys varieties of herring, eggs, and dilled potatoes. Marinated salmon or lox, Jansson’s temptation (anchovies, onion and creamed potatoes baked) begins, with hard bread and cheeses. Either dilled Salmon or dilled lamb often is served with spring vegetables. Swedish yellow flowers know as Easter lily’s (Påsk lilje) decorate the table. We call these, vibrant yellow daffodils.

You can decorate your own Swedish Påskris, play “ägg pickning” or make a reservation at a local IKEA to taste test a typical Swedish Easter meal. “Glad Påsk”, Happy Easter.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014 turns 10 years old!

           at Easter Seals 10th Anniversary turns 10 years old and Easter Seals Metropolitan Chicago (ESMC) will kick off the celebration in April during Autism Awareness Month. was founded in 2004 by Harry Engnell Sr. to improve the lives and futures of individuals with Autism.  “When my son Harry Jr. and I started 10 years ago in the basement of our home, I never would have imagined the growth we are experiencing today.  It is great to see our mission come to life with Easter Seals,” said Engnell Sr.

The Engnell family partnered with ESMC in 2008, starting with five employees and shortly after donated the business to the non-profit organization. has locations in Tinley Park and Chicago with hopes of an expansion to Rockford through donations and grants. at Easter Seals is now providing meaningful employment opportunities to nearly 60 individuals living with Autism.
On April 12, at Easter Seals will host Buttons4Autism, a community event where donations are collected at local intersections and storefronts of Tinley Park.  Proceeds benefit ESMC’s efforts in providing meaningful work to individuals with disabilities.  If anyone is interested in volunteering or donating to Buttons4Autism, call 708-802-9050 or visit
About Easter Seals Metropolitan Chicago
Easter Seals Metropolitan Chicago maximizes independence and creates opportunities for nearly 30,000 people with disabilities and other special needs to live, learn, work and play in their communities by providing a lifespan of premier services.  The organization offers a wide range of programs; some of which include: specialized therapeutic schools for children with autism, emotional behavior disorder, and/or severe learning disabilities; early intervention; inclusive child care; specialty clinics; adult job training and job placement programs for individuals with autism; and military/veterans programs. 

·       For more information about:
o    Easter Seals Metropolitan Chicago, visit
o at Easter Seals, visit
o   Or call 708-802-9050.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Little City Shares iPad Apps that Benefit Children with Autism

In celebration of April being Autism Awareness Month, Little City works to “Light the City Blue” by sharing apps that help children with autism communicate, learn and increase their skills

Children with autism and other intellectual and developmental disabilities have been increasing their skills by utilizing different applications on iPads throughout the school year at Little City’s ChildBridge Center for Education. In honor of Autism Awareness Month, Little City is sharing apps that benefit children with autism and other disabilities.

These apps have helped individuals learn, communicate, increase motor skills and much more. All applications were recommended by Little City’s Speech-Language Pathologist, Occupational Therapist and Social Worker, and have been used in a learning environment.

Jason Cohen, Little City’s Speech-Language Pathologist, recommends ProLoQuo2Go, a highly customizable speech generating program that children can use to communicate at many different levels. He also uses Choiceworks, which provides a simple, easy to understand picture schedule that helps students know what to expect as they go through a session.

“When a student becomes successful in using ProLoQuo2Go, it essentially becomes their voice,” said Cohen. “They are now able to communicate with others when before they were nonverbal.”

Little City’s Occupational Therapist, Damon Simmons, suggests Bugs & Buttons, an app that fosters growth in visual-motor integration and Dots for Tots, which is play disguised as learning that helps increase hand-eye coordination and motor skills. Damon also utilizes Cause and Effect Sensory Light Box that encourages development and basic awareness of touches and gestures through exploration and play.

During Jessica Peterson Kingji’s time with students, the Social Worker, utilizes Social Talks, which teaches individuals how to correctly identify conversation skills and ABA Flashcards and Games Emotions, which helps children identify, understand and respond to emotions. She also recommends Autism iHelp, a group of apps that help students practice cognitive skills such as object identification, opposites, sorting and much more.
Little City is proud to participate in Autism Awareness Month as they work to “Light to the City Blue” while spreading awareness throughout the community. Eighty percent of children served at Little City have a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder. Autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability in the U.S. and increasing awareness is extremely important as early intervention and diagnosis are key for those with autism.

For more than 50 years, Little City has provided programs and services to children and adults with autism and other intellectual and developmental disabilities, including residential options, a therapeutic day school, employment opportunities, home-based supports and much more.

For a complete list of apps recommended by Little City, visit

To participate in “Light the City Blue” to help spread awareness surrounding autism, visit

For complete information, visit  or contact Sally Blake at or 847-221-7831.

About Little City Foundation
For more than 50 years, Little City Foundation has developed innovative and personalized programs to fully assist and empower children and adults with autism and other intellectual and developmental disabilities. With a commitment to attaining a greater quality of life for Illinois’ most vulnerable citizens, Little City actively promotes choice, person-centered planning and a holistic approach to health and wellness. Little City’s ChildBridge services include in-home personal and family supports, clinical and behavior intervention, 24/7 residential services and special needs foster care and adoption. Little City’s LifePath Adult Services offers a variety of residential options, employment opportunities, home-based services, case management, day supports, Special Olympics, an award-winning Center for the Arts and more. The organization has a 56-acre campus in Palatine and offices in Chicago. Visit .