While many Norwegians are not Christian, the Easter holiday is still widely celebrated throughout the country. It is a great time to spend with family and friends and welcome the coming of spring.
Norway has one of the longest Easter celebration / holiday breaks in the world. It begins on Maundy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter) and lasts until the Monday following Easter (known as “the second Easter day”). Many people have off work during this time and schools are closed the entire week before Easter.
The Days of Easter
Easter (and Passover) is called “påske” in Norwegian which derives from the Hebrew word “Pesach / Pasah” meaning “Passover.” While Easter is largely a secular celebration in Norway, remnants of the religious aspects still remain. To understand some traditions and the days’ names, let’s look at a brief overview of the religious significance of each day. Please note: This is not meant to be a debate about whether these religious events are or are not “factual.” That is up to the reader to decide for themselves.
In Christianity, Palm Sunday (palmesøndag) marks the day that Jesus arrived in Jerusalem. Palm leaves (or leaves from other native trees) are typically handed out at many churches throughout the world, to represent the palm branches that the crowd had laid in front of Jesus as he entered the city.
Maundy Thursday (skjærtorsdag) is the Thursday before Easter. In Christianity, Maundy Thursday was the day that Jesus washed the feet of his apostles and the day that the Last Supper took place.
Good Friday (langfredag) commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus in Christianity. It sometimes coincides with the Jewish observance of Passover, which celebrates their freedom from slavery in ancient Egypt.
Christians celebrate Easter (påskesøndag) as the day that Jesus was resurrected from the dead.
Easter is celebrated on a different date each year because it is based on a lunar calendar. It is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after March 21.
Traditions and Decorations
There had been an “Easter” holiday celebration by Norwegians before it became a Christian holiday, as it was just a celebration of the coming spring. Some traditions (and symbols) from pre-Christian celebrations for spring have been altered over time but are still a part of Easter celebrations in Norway today.
There are not really any secular traditions associated with Palm Sunday (other than it marks the start of the holiday week for students). However, some churches organize “palm processions” on this day.
While students have off school from Sunday, most people work Monday through Wednesday. Maundy Thursday is the official start to their holiday break and many take this opportunity to go shopping, go to their cabin, or go skiing.
While Maundy Thursday is an official holiday in Norway, it is not in Sweden and so many Norwegians travel to Sweden to go Easter shopping. Sometimes this day is referred to as “Sverigedag.”
Though many Norwegians choose to celebrate Easter at home, many others go to their cabin and / or go skiing. Two things that most Norwegians will have with them, to eat as snacks while at the cabin or skiing, are oranges and Kvikk Lunsj.
In old days, Norwegians thought that the witches went to a place called Bloksberg on Maundy Thursday. Many Norwegians would put a broom outside their door, for the witches to take. They believed that if they didn’t, a witch would take a cow or sheep from them instead. Today, small brooms are a common Easter decoration in a lot of Norwegian homes.
Other common decorations during Easter are daffodils, yellow chickens, rabbits, decorated eggshells (this is done by blowing the insides of the egg out, leaving just the shell to be painted); and “påskekvist” which are small twigs that are decorated with painted eggs. The color yellow is very common during this time of year, as well.
Good Friday is one of 3 days that Norway does not air commercials on television (however charity ads do run). Several churches in Norway organize processions where a cross is carried in commemoration of the crucifixion. The Church City Mission (Kirkens Bymisjon) in Oslo organizes such a procession in the city.
Early Saturday (påskeaften) is typically when cardboard or plastic easter eggs (påskeegg), decorated with an Easter theme and filled with candy, are hidden around the home or yard for the children to search for and find. Afterward, children watch “Påskemorgen” which is a children’s show that airs each day of the Easter holiday.
Saturday afternoon is usually when the family has their Easter meal together. Typically a leg of lamb is eaten (a tradition stemming from Christianity; some believe that lamb was eaten during the Last Supper; additionally Jesus is considered the “Lamb of God”).
Many churches in Norway will arrange special services in the late evening, starting around 11pm and lasting till 1am. Candles are often lit during the service.
Easter Sunday (første påskedag) begins with an Easter breakfast that usually includes freshly baked bread and dyed boiled eggs. Some children also get Easter eggs on this day, often left by the Easter bunny (påskehare). Unlike in some countries, the Easter bunny is not really a major figure during the holiday.
The Monday after Easter is called “Second Easter” (andre påskedag). For those who had travelled over the Easter week, this is a day to pack up and return home and get ready for work the following day. For those who didn’t travel, it’s just a day to relax before work begins again.
One of the most interesting Easter traditions in Norway is that of “påskekrim.” During the Easter holiday, fictional crime thrillers / dramas are all the rage. Many Norwegians will read crime thriller books or stories in magazines.The book stores will have an entire section titled “påskekrim” with crime thrillers on sale. There are radio and tv crime drama shows that are often aired in parts (one part each day) during the Easter week. The milk company will even put small crime thrillers on their milk cartons for people to solve.
It is believed that this tradition of påskekrim came from the 1920s when a publishing company ran an ad on the front cover of Aftenposten, for a crime story. The advertisement had a title that read, “Bergenstoget Plyndret I Natt” (Bergen Train Looted in the Night) and looked like a standard news headline. The “article” advertised the new crime book by Nordahl Grieg and Nils Lie. The book sold quite well, prompting publishing companies to push out more crime thrillers during the Easter holiday the following year. And thus, a tradition was born.
|Påske||Easter / Passover|
|Første påske||First Easter (Sunday)|
|Nattverden||The Last Supper|
|Påskegudstjenester||Easter church services|
|Påskeføre||Easter conditions (weather conditions for skiing during Easter)|
|Påsketrafikk||“Easter traffic,” the traffic during the Easter holiday|
|Påskerenn / Påskeskirenn||“Easter meet;” people get together and have fun competitions and go skiing|
|God påske!||Happy Easter!|
|Ferie||Holiday / Vacation|
|Andre påske||Second Easter (Monday)|
|Helligdag||Holiday (as in “holy day”)|
|Lammelår||Leg of lamb|
|Påskebrun||“Easter tan;” the tan one gets when skiing during Easter|
|Påskemarsipan||Easter marzipan; in the shape of eggs and chickens; often with the color yellow|
|Å stå på ski||To go skiing|
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Institutt for kulturstudier og orientalske språk: Påske og påsketradisjoner (på norsk)
Introduction to Påske Traditions in Norway
Forskeren forteller: Våre påsketradisjoner
Store Norske Leksikon: Påske (på norsk)
Store Norske Leksikon: Påskeegg (på norsk)
Store Norske Leksikon: Påskehare (på norsk)
Påskefeiring i Norge - Tradisjoner for påskefeiring i Norge (på norsk)
Påske in a nutshell: Norwegian Easter customs
5 Things Norwegians Do For Easter
Påsketradisjoner - Tradisjoner i påsken (på norsk)
Norwegian Holidays - Easter - Påske (YouTube)
Norwegian Lesson: Easter / Påske (YouTube)
Things Norwegians Do | EASTER EDITION! (YouTube)
Slik feiret vi påske før i tiden (på norsk)
Crime time: Norwegian Easter equals brutal murders
Easter Traditions in Norway: A Real Mystery
Exercise 1: Se på påskekrim sammen
Extra credit: Write a short one or two paragraphs påskekrim.