Swedes have taken up US Hallowe’en customs only very recently and half-heartedly, the whole thing being driven by merchants. But we do have something like trick-or-treating: the Easter Crone custom of Maundy Thursday.
Traditionally, there’s no Easter Bunny in Sweden. (My mother once shocked our American nanny by serving a rabbit for Easter dinner.) Instead the holiday is associated with witches, believed to make an annual broom-borne pilgrimage to Blue Mountain on Maundy Thursday. There, of course, they celebrate orgies with the Devil. (Don’t we all?) About 300 people were executed for the crime of witchcraft in Sweden between 1668 and 1676.
What children do is slightly more innocuous: they draw colourful Easter greeting cards, dress up as motley little witches (påskkärringar, “Easter crones”), and go round the neighbourhood ringing door-bells. Everyone who opens gets a card and an Easter greeting, and in return the kids expect some candy or a few coins. No threats of trickery are uttered or implied.
This year, my kids being 9 and 4, I borrowed the neighbour’s daughter and led the trio on their first Easter Crone raid. They weren’t terribly enthusiastic at first: the little one threw a tantrum over the clothes I offered her, and the big one was pretty embarrassed about the whole thing. But I had them make three cards each, taught them the script of the typical encounter, and off we went to neighbours we know.
They warmed to the thing pretty fast. The loot was adequate, enough to keep them munching along, and about half of the nine greeting-card recipients gave them money instead of candy. They ended up with the equivalent of ten or twelve dollars, most of which we promptly converted to candy at the grocery store once the kids had run out of greeting cards. Along the way to the store, we met other kids who told us how much they had netted, and there was a fine carnivalian mood all around. I enjoyed it too, particularly since I’m usually the stricter, schedule-driven parent in contrast to the kids’ more artistically minded moms.