The Easter Tree Tradition

Easter Tree in SwedenSpring is here (or will be officially next week) and Easter is two weeks away. It is time to make your Easter Tree or Påskris – a popular tradition in Sweden.

In the markets of Sweden you will see buckets and baskets filled with colorful feathers for Påskris. The feathers are tied to twigs and placed in a container. Much like a Christmas tree, you then can add decorations but this time they are all types of symbols of spring such as roosters, hens, birds of all kinds, butterflies, and of course, eggs as colorful as the feathers.

(You can find materials you need for your own Påskris at Ingebretsen’s.)

These colorful twigs with feathers have a not so cheerful story behind its origin. In the 1600’s Swedish people used to take twigs and sticks and beat each other with them on Good Friday to commemorate the suffering of Jesus. In the 1800’s and 1900’s, they decided to stop hitting each other and started to decorate the twigs and they became a symbolic decoration for Easter.

It’s been suggested that the feather twigs represent the palm leaves that were placed on the ground for Jesus’ donkey to walk on in his triumphant return to Jerusalem celebrated on Palm Sunday. Since there are as many palm trees in Sweden as there are in Minnesota (outdoor palm trees to be precise), this was the best they could do to imitate this tradition.

Some Swedes say the Easter Tree symbolizes the wiping away the winter. The twigs represent a broom and the feathers get caught in the broom as we sweep.

K0323_4But since Easter Feathers really don’t look much like palm leaves there may be a couple other reasons for their use (that we are making up right now):

  • It is a warning to all birds that if they chose to “drop” on the local wagons, carts, or Volvos they may find themselves in the same situation as their colorful companions.
  • Much like Linus’ Great Pumpkin, these feathered twigs are offered to the Great Easter Spring Chicken to show her that we are worthy of the warmer weather and that under our parkas we bear clothing of radiant colors.
  • It is an attempt to appease Höðr – the Nordic God of winter, who is not so keen on being pushed aside. Nor is Höðr pleased with the delight and happiness his leaving seems to bring to the natives.

Whatever the “truth” is, we love these Easter Trees and if you haven’t made one in the past we hope you will start a new tradition.

Here is a YouTube video to help you create your Påskris.


Saint Urho Drives The Grasshoppers Out of Finland

Tomorrow, March 16th, is St. Urho’s Day. With much less PR and fanfare as the Irish St. Patrick’s Day, St. Urho’s Day has its origins not in Finland but in Northern Minnesota. According to the website dedicated to St. Urho:

The legend of St. Urho originated in Northern Minnesota in the 1950s. However, there are differing opinions as to whether it began with the fables created by Sulo Havumaki of Bemidji, or the tongue-in-cheek tales told by Richard Mattson of Virginia. Either way, the legend has grown among North Americans of Finnish descent to the point where St. Urho is known and celebrated across the United States and Canada, and even in Finland.

St. Urho’s Day is celebrated on March 16th, the day prior to the better known feast of some minor saint from Ireland, who was alleged to have driven the snakes from that island.

The legend of St. Urho says he chased the grasshoppers out of ancient Finland, thus saving the grape crop and the jobs of Finnish vineyard workers. He did this by uttering the phrase: “Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen” (roughly translated: “Grasshopper, grasshopper, go to Hell!”). His feast is celebrated by wearing the colors Royal Purple and Nile Green. St. Urho is nearly always represented with grapes and grasshoppers as part of the picture.

Saint Urho has been recognized with proclamations in all 50 states. Minnesota Governor Wendell Anderson issued a proclamation in his state, the unofficial home of Saint Urho, in 1975.

So kick-up your heels and enjoy this St. Urho Polka:

Our sincere thanks to Tim “Timo Winkenen” Winker and Randy “Uncle Toivo” Jokela for keeping St. Urho’s Day spirit alive and well.


Written by Mary Hirsch

Scandinavia At The 2018 Winter Paralympic Games

International Paralympics Committee Logo

The 2018 Winter Paralympics have begun. They are the 12th Paralympic Winter Games, and are being held in PyeongChang. The Games are an international multi-sport event for athletes that is currently taking place from March 9th to the 18th.

Athletes representing 49 National Paralympic Committees are participating in these Games, which mark the first time that PyeongChang, South Korea had hosted the Winter Paralympics and the second Paralympics held in the country overall, after the 1988 Summer Paralympics in Seoul.

The sporting events at the Paralympics include: alpine skiing, biathalon, cross-country skiing, para ice hockey, snowboarding and wheelchair curling. You can read more about each sport here. You can learn more about the athletes for each event here.

We would like to introduce you to the Scandinavian teams.

Danish Paralympic Athletes


Denmark has claimed six medals at the past Paralympic Winter Games: Gold 2 – Silver 1 – Bronze 3.

Lillehammer 1994 were Denmark’s most successful Paralympic Winter Games to date, as it won one gold medal there alongside two bronze.

Denmark is ranked 25th in the Winter Games’ all-time medal table. You can read more about the Denmark team here.


Team Finland


Finland has claimed 183 medals at the Paralympic Winter Games: Gold 76 – Silver 48 – Bronze 59.

Innsbruck 1984 were Finland’s most successful Paralympic Winter Games to date, winning 19 gold medals (G19-S9-B6).

Finland is ranked sixth in the Winter Games’ all-time medal table.

They have been more successful in cross-country skiing than in any other sport, claiming 64 gold, 46 silver and 52 bronze medals.

Only Norway (78) has won more gold medals in cross-country skiing events at the Paralympic Winter Games than Finland (64).

You can read more about the Finland team here.



Iceland has yet to claim its first medal at the Paralympic Winter Games.

They made their debut at the Lillehammer 1994 Paralympic Winter Games.

Alpine Skier Erna Fridriksdottir claimed two top-10 finishes at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, ninth in the women’s giant slalom sitting and 10th in the women’s slalom sitting.


Norway’s world champion skip Rune Lorentsen © WCF / Céline Stuck


Norway has claimed 319 medals at the Paralympic Winter Games: Gold 135 – Silver 103 – Bronze 81.

The Lillehammer 1994 Paralympic Winter Games were Norway’s most successful Paralympic Winter Games to date, winning 29 gold medals (S22-B13).

Norway hosted the Paralympic Winter Games in 1980 when the event was held in Geilo and in 1994 when the event was held in Lillehammer.

They have been most successful in cross-country skiing, claiming 78 gold, 46 silver and 33 bronze medals.

You can read more about Norway’s team here.


Sweden’s paralympic ice sledge hockey team scoring
©World Para Ice Hockey

Sweden has won 99 medals at the Paralympic Winter Games: Gold 26 – Silver 32 – Bronze 41.

Sweden won its most medals in cross-country skiing, 55. It also won silverware in alpine skiing (31), biathlon (5), ice hockey (3), ice sledge speed racing (3) and wheelchair curling (2).

Sweden has won 17 gold medals in women’s events and nine in men’s.

Sweden won most medals at the Ornskoldsvik 1976 Paralympic Winter Games when it hosted the Games and claimed 20 medals.

You can read more about Sweden’s team here.

Television coverage

Watching any Olympian is amazing, but watching the athletes at the Paralympic Games is amazing and inspiring. You can find the NBC coverage schedule here.

Don’t believe me, watch all or part of the Gold Medal ice sledge hockey game between the USA and Russia from 2014.


Written by Mary Hirsch



If You Love Fairy Tales You Can Thank Sweden

Last Monday was National Tell a Fairy Tale Day. Fairy tales were often written accounts of folk tales that were told in small villages and towns throughout the world. According to Jens Tismar (who, from what I could find online, is a German scholar) a fairy tale is:

“A story that differs ‘from an oral folk tale,’ written by ‘a single identifiable author,’ which can be characterized as ‘simple and anonymous,’ and exists in a mutable and difficult to define genre with a close relationship to folktales.”

A person could argue (in a stoic way) that the origin of the fairy tale is from Sweden. Collecting folklore began in the 1630s when Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden from 1611 to 1632, told the priests in all of the parishes to collect the folklore of their area. The priests collected customs and beliefs that were not sanctioned by the church, as well as other traditional material and so much of Scandinavian folklore was preserved thanks to the priests’ efforts and Adolphus’ wise call for this collection.

Fairy hut on chicken legs Skansen Park Stockholm Sweden

Scandinavian folklore became the favored way to introduce new, Christian beliefs in an otherwise pagan land. Folk tales began to take on a new flavor as early as the 11th century, as trolls became scared of church bells and only people of strong faith could defeat dragons and sea monsters.

Thanks to such collections all over the world, oral histories, legends, and myths that were told around the fire or by traveling or local storytellers, were written down and now known as fairy tales.

Image of Hans Christian Andersen statue in Central Park. Photo by unknown, used under Creative Commons

One of the most well-known fairy tale writers is Denmark’s Hans Christian Andersen. First published in 1829, Andersen created written versions of the Princess and the Pea, The Ugly Duckling, The Little Mermaid and many more. While Germany’s famous Grimm Brothers original tales were often dark and written with adults in mind, Andersen’s stories are sweet and warm and written for children.

In 1952 Danny Kaye starred in the wonderful movie “Hans Christian Andersen” that is not just about the writer but it features so many of his stories. It is worth finding and watching.

You can find a list of all his stories here.

The Teleborg Fairy Castle in Växjö, Sweden

But don’t limit yourself to Andersen. There are stories from all the Nordic countries to read. Here are a few of them for you to enjoy:

The Forest Bride The Story of a Little Mouse Who Was a Princess by Parker Fillmore (Finnish)

Geirlug the Kings Daughter from Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books (Icelandic)

Jolly Calle by Helena Nyblom (Swedish)

Katie Woodencloak Norwegian Version of Cinderella by Asbjørnsen and Moe (Norwegian)

You can find more Scandinavian folk tales here.

Troll monument in Geiranger, Norway.

And, of course, visit Ingebretsen’s either online or at the store for great Scandinavian fairy tale books that you can own and share with your family.

Extra: If you love fairy tales you may just love the cartoons that put a new spin on them. Two of my favorites are Fixed Fairy Tales and Fractured Fairy Tales. Here are two of their revised versions of classic tales:



Written by Mary Hirsch

A Ski Jump Finnish Finish

One of our readers commented that the post about ski jumping would make a person believe that there was no Finland ski jumping team — and indeed there was. You can read about them here. In fact the Nordic World Championships were held in Finland in 2017.

But even better, the Finland team became famous on social media with this video that went viral and became a popular GIF.

Ski Jumping Roots Are In Norway (and St. Paul)

I love ski jumping. It is the most frightening yet graceful sport I watch (and by graceful I do not include the “agony of defeat” jumping from ABC’s Wild Word of Sports). It also seems to me to be the closest to flying a human can experience.

In this year’s Winter Olympics the Men’s Team Ski Jumping took Gold and Johann André Forfang and Robert Johansson took Silver and Bronze, respectively, in the Normal Hill individual event and Robert Johansson took Bronze in the Large Hill Individual event. Maren Lundby won the Gold in the Women’s Ski Jump.

Though not in the 2018 Olympics, Norwegian Ander Fannemel holds the world record for the longest jump.

The Origin of Ski Jumping

Ole Rye

Norway can be proud to be the country of origin for ski jumping. It can be traced to Ole Rye who jumped 9.5m (10.3 yards) in 1808. He was also a major-general in the Norwegian-Danish army and died in battle in 1849. Norwegian emigrants brought the sport to the United States in the late 1800s, and the first competition in the U.S. was held in St. Paul, Minn. in 1887.

Sondre Norheim

Norwegian Sondre Norheim is widely considered the fathers of modern ski jumping. In 1866 what has been described as the world’s first ski jumping competition with prizes, was held at Ofte, Høydalsmo, Norway. He made important innovations in skiing technology by designing new equipment, such as different bindings and shorter skis with curved sides to facilitate turns. He also designed the Telemark ski, which is the prototype of all those now produced. He and his wife immigrated to the United States, settling first in Minnesota and then moving to North Dakota.

After World War I, Norwegians Jacob Tullin Thams and Sigmund Ruud developed a new jumping style known as the Kongsberger Technique because it was created in Kongsberger, Norway. This involved jumping with the upper body bent at the hips, a wide forward lean, and with arms extended at the front with the skis parallel to each other. Thomas was the first person to win a Gold Medal in Olympic Ski Jumping in 1924.

In the mid-1950s, Swiss(Swiss???) jumper Andreas Daescher became the first jumper to hold the arms backwards close to the body with a more extreme forward lean which superseded the Konsberger Technique. Then in 1985, Swedish jumper Jan Boklöv started spreading the tips of his skis into a “V” shape. Initially ridiculed, this technique proved so successful that by 1992 all Olympic medallists were using this style. Continue reading

Curl Up For an Olympic Read

Today we’re talking about curlers. No not those curlers: 

we’re talking about these curlers:

Norwegian curlers to be exact. Curling is part of the Winter Olympics and the Norwegian curling team is the talk of the town. But not necessarily for their prowess on the sheets. No not these sheets:

But these sheets:


Sheets, by the way, is the name of the ice surface where curling is played.

They are a hot topic with social media because of the fashion statement they are making this year and have been making since 2010 in Vancouver. It was in Vancouver  that the curling team began wearing a uniform that has been described as hideous, marvelous, retro, avant garde, hysterical, and historical.

The team won the silver medal in 2010 for curling and the gold medal for fun.

In 2014 for the games in Sochi the team and pants were back – but with a total outfit this time. They made a stop in New York to help pedestrians “sweep” across the icy streets.

They did not medal in 2014, but they were still the topic of much conversation. At a curling competition in Vegas in 2016 the team demonstrated another talent — putting on their pants without hands:

So they are back in 2018, and looking as dapper as ever. They even had special pants for Valentine’s Day:

Of course there is more to a team than their pants — I honestly never thought that was a sentence I would write.

You can meet the Norwegian men’s team here.

And grab a cab with them here:

Norway also has a mixed doubles curling team. They are Kristin Skaslien / Magnus Nedregotten.

Unfortunately they just missed the Bronze medal in a loss to the “Russian” team.

Not well known for their pants, the Swedish team is a contender for gold and is currently the leader on the board.  You can meet the captain Niklas Edin here:

In fact Sweden has a men’s team and a women’s team.

Denmark also have a men’s and women’s team. Finland has a mixed team.

And if you want to know more about curling here is pretty much everything you need to know:

except, of course, what to wear.


Written by Mary Hirsch

Olympics 2018: Name Those Jumps and Skaters

The Winter Olympics are in full swing and we will be posting some factoids about the history and current Olympics with a Scandinavian flavor to it.

Ice skating is one of the favorite events. Two words you will hear a lot in the commentary are “axel” and “salchow” (not sow cow). These terms pay homage to two Scandinavian skaters.

Norwegian Axel Paulsen was the first to do the jump now referred to as an axel. The axel is a figure skating jump with a forward take off. It is named after Norwegian figure skater Axel Paulsen who, in 1882, was the first skater to perform the jump.

Here is a description of how what the axel jump is and how to do it:

In 1909 Swedish skater Ulrich Salchow was the first skater who landed a jump in competition in which he took off on the back inside edge, and landed on the back outside edge of his other foot. This jump is now known as the Salchow jump in his honor.

Here is a description of how the Salchow is done:

You can see more about Paulsen and Salchow in this video (the skating segment starts at 0:48 if you are impatient like this writer). [Note this link will take you to YouTube.]


More Scandinavian Olympic posts to come. Subscribe to our blog so you don’t miss them.



Written by Mary Hirsch

Hygge – Have Your Cake And Eat A Lot Of It Too

Food is a big part of hygge. Since hygge translates to cozy/comfort in English when it comes to hygge+food = comfort food. Everyone has their own comfort foods, often based on what they ate when they were growing up. Grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup, meatloaf, macaroni and cheese, any kind of hot dish are common ones. One of my favorites is tomato juice and noodles – yes it’s a personal choice.

Hygge is about being kind to yourself, giving yourself and others a break from the demands of healthy living, giving and sharing a treat. Sweets are hyggelige; cake is hyggelight.

Meik Wiking says

“Cakes and pastries make everything hyggeligt, both eating them and baking them. They also bring an atmosphere of casualness to any business meeting.”

One of the most popular and traditional cake shops in Denmark is La Glace. Established in 1870 it is Denmark’s oldest confectionary shop. While they make many cakes, their most famous is the sportskage (sport cake) that they created for the premiere in 1891 of the play Sports Man. Known for its ocean of whipped cream the recipe can be found here.

There are two types of Danish birthday cakes — one for adults and the other for children.

Dansk Fødselsdagskage or Danish birthday cakes for adults consist of three layers alternating with cream, berries, custard, and any other mix-ins of your choosing. The recipe and directions can be found here.

You can see it being made and hear a Danish birthday song:

However, for children a kagemand or kagekone, is in order.

It is a rolled out pastry, decorated to look like a cake man or cake woman. Using chocolate, candy, and icing, the cake child is cut into pieces to enjoy while the children scream in mock fear and the birthday child nibbles on the head. (Paging Stephen King!)

This video shows how to make it but it is in Danish with no subtitles so it will give you an idea how to do it:

You can find the recipe and directions here.

You have to love a lifestyle that includes cake.

Written by Mary Hirsch