Today is Good Friday. When I was a child, this qualified as the looooongest day in the year – potentially with the day before Christmas as the single contender. In difference to the day before Christmas, Good Friday was a rather gloomy day. The music on the radio was anything but upbeat. What movies were being showed on TV were of a biblical theme.
We all knew why we were celebrating (erm…) Good Friday. This was the day when Jesus died for us, suffering hours and hours of agony on the cross. The least us kids could do, therefore, was to spend the day in contemplation and silence. In my family contemplation meant a very, very long walk. What was also a given was that on Good Friday we did not eat meat. Nope, this was a day of fasting – even for us Protestants.
I grew up in South America. In this predominantly Catholic environment, Lent was a big thing. At school, it was mostly fish for a month. Holy Week was a serious celebration, gearing up to days of re-enacting Jesus’ sacrifice. The Easter Bunny did not figure prominently, neither did chocolate eggs. When we moved back to Sweden, the focus changed somewhat. Not all that much fasting—actually none at all, except for Good Friday—not all that much Easter Bunny, but deffo a lot of focus on Easter eggs, both the real version and the chocolate type.
Originally, Easter was a Spring celebration. In countries to the very far north, like Sweden, the hens began laying again in March after a hiatus over the darkest months. Eggs were therefore something of a seasonal novelty for Easter, which is why tradition stipulates Easter is celebrated by eating a lot of eggs. Preferably, said eggs are decorated. In my family, we would boil a dozen eggs or so and then proceed to paint them. These garish eggs (my sister and I went for purple, green, yellow and orange when decorating them) would form the piece de resistance in the Easter Day buffet. But on Good Friday, Easter Day was still a long way off. No eggs, no meat, no baked good. Only fish.
To this day, in my home we do not eat meat on Good Friday. My children perceive this as a tradition rather than an act of faith. They chuckle a bit at my insistence that on this day we eat fish to honour Jesus. They tease me a bit, saying that it is sort of amusing that my two acts of faith per year is to not eat fish today and to go to morning mass at Christmas. They have a point. But to me, faith is an intensely personal thing, and I spend far more time thinking about it than they know.
In my childhood home, faith was not a big thing. My mother taught us our evening prayers and the recurring psalms, but that was about it. She lost her faith in God when her mother died—despite my mother praying and praying to God that He heal my grandmother. I guess hepatitis was out of divine control—or maybe God made a judgement call that is incomprehensible to those left behind. Whatever the case, for years my mother refused to pray. She was angry at God, swore to never again turn to Him in her hour of need. Never. And then one day I fell ill. Seriously ill. My windpipe congested, I could hardly draw breath, and our maid diagnosed it as being false croup. “Best thing for that is to submerge her in hot water and let the steam open the congested airways,” she said. So she filled the tub. My mother held me and for the first time in a decade she prayed. And prayed. And from somewhere came the certainty that to put me in that steaming bath would kill me, so instead she called the ambulance.
Turns out I didn’t have false croup. I had the real thing, i.e. diphtheria. Had she placed me in that bath, chances are I would have overheated (I was running a very high temperature) and died. My mother always said that this was God making up for failing to save her mother. After than incident, her relationship with God improved markedly, but she was not much given to discussing it.
Towards the end of her life, my mother did talk to me about God. More specifically, she spoke of the hereafter. She was afraid she’d get cheated out of her expectations. “I want to see them,” she explained. “I want to hug them and hold them. I want your father to kiss me, my mother to ruffle my hair as she used to do. Do you think that’s the way it will be?”
No. I do not believe in a hereafter in which we remain in some sort of corporal form. When I said so, my mother grimaced. “Then what’s the point?” she asked angrily. “Why bother with a life after death if all we’re going to do is float about looking adequately spiritual? What sort of life is that, without the joy of physical contact?”
I just patted her hand. “I think God will ensure we get what we need,” I told her. I hope by now she has discovered I was right and that she has come to terms floating about. Knowing her, she does her floating with style.
So, Good Friday: in our home that means gravad lax (cured salmon) and creamed potatoes with lots and lots of fresh asparagus on the side. Gravad lax is probably one of Sweden’s biggest contributions to the culinary world, and it is ridiculously easy to make. Here comes our recipe, which feeds 8 or so:
Two kilos of salmon – we buy a whole side of salmon with the skin still on but no bones. Place the salmon in the freezer for a couple of days. Take it out, thaw it (takes six hours or so). Cut the side into two halves (across) so that you can place one on top of the other.
Mix 0,1 litres of salt with 0,1 litres of sugar, two tablespoons of crushed white pepper corns, and a lot of finely cut dill.
Massage most of the mixture into the meaty side of the salmon – hold back a third or so.
Place the two pieces of salmon on top of each other, meaty side to meaty side. Use the remaining mixture on the skin side. Place all in a deep dish (I use a lasagna pan), wrap it in plastic and place a heavy weight on top. Put in the refrigerator for 48 hours, turn it every 12 hours.
Cut it into fine slices before serving.
With that, I leave you dear peeps: outside, the sun is shining and my roses are clamouring for attention. I hope you have a great Easter and no matter why you celebrate, I wish you all plenty of chocolate eggs