Swedish word of the day: skärtorsdagen

Swedish word of the day: skärtorsdagen
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Today, let's talk about the Swedish word for the day when witches fly away to dance with the devil.

Yep.

The word is skärtorsdagen, which can be more simply translated as Maundy Thursday – the Thursday before Easter. In 2021, that’s April 1st.

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 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 go so far as hiding 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 due to the spread of Covid-19.

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 do allow employees to leave early.

Examples

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

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Member comments

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  1. the article on skarstorsdagen says that maundy comes from a word meaning footwashing. While footwashing is part of the liturgy for Maundy Thursday the word maundy actually comes from the Latin maundate which means I command as in John 13:14 “If I, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet you I command that you should wash one another’s feet” and and verse 34 which is. “I give you a comandment that you love one another.” It is interesting that Skarstorsdagen might actually mean cleaning day.

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