Easter was a holiday celebrating spring long before it was taken as the date we commemorate the resurrection of Jesus. Even today, it’s celebrated in the secular world with eggs and bunnies. As the history of the two celebrations intermingled, some really strange traditions were associated with the holiday. In Sweden in the Middle Ages, when witches were taken quite seriously, their pagan rituals were observed to coincide with the changes of the seasons, and so the tales of Easter witches grew. And they remained in pop culture long after the last witch was burned at the stake.
When lithography printers like Axel Eliassons in Stockholm began publishing holiday cards in the late 19th century, the Easter Witch—usually a happy elderly hag dressed like a Swedish farm wife in aprons and headscarves—became a standard character on often-comedic “Glad Påsk” (or “Happy Easter”) postcards. The printers also made smaller cards for the children to deliver. Influential Swedish illustrator Jenny Nystrom is credited with redefining the Easter Witch with her colorful and humorous turn-of-the-century cards. She then inspired Ingeborg Klein, Lars “Lasse” Carlsson, Sigrun Steenhoff, and her son Curt Nystrom Stoopendaal to come up with their own Easter Witch greetings.
As pretty-girl and pin-up art grew popular from World War II to the 1960s “Playboy” era, the witches on Glad Påsk greeting cards became younger, prettier, and progressively sexier. Like Mid-Century Santas, Easter Witches adopted modern means of transit, such as cars, airplanes, and rocket ships, and some found themselves in all sorts of slapstick situations, like getting entangled in television antennae or telephone wires.
Read about Easter witches and their history at Collectors Weekly. You’ll see a gallery with a lot of holiday cards featuring Easter witches.