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Think of Easter, and you are likely to think of a week for religious reflection, church visits, and/or, for a more commercialized take on the traditional holiday, Easter egg hunts, lunches with friends, and relaxation in the first good weather of the year. Celebration, contemplation, and worrying amounts of chocolate may feature high on the list for most nations. And then there’s Norway, where an integral part of Easter celebrations includes murder.
It isn’t quite as bad as it sounds; thanks to a remarkable event eighty years ago, Norwegians simply love to read, listen to, or watch crime thrillers as part of their traditional Easter rituals. These whodunits, known as påskekrim, can be any type of detective novel or mystery series, but the most-watched and most “cozy” are the series put on by NRK, the national broadcasting channel, over three to five days. These have included famous detective stories such as Poirot, Sherlock Holmes, and Miss Marple, and some slightly more whimsical ones, which may be even more iconic inside Norway than in their British home country, such as P.D. James’s Adam Dalgliesh and Dorothy L. Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey.
The story goes that two young men from Bergen were looking to make their fortune in the early 1920s. They decided, rather unusually as a money-making scheme, to write a crime novel together. As it happened, one of the pair had a brother who worked as an editor for a large publishing company in Norway, and he came up with an ingenious idea for how to promote the book: they placed a front-page advert for it in the biggest national newspaper, Aftenposten. The advertisement was made to look like an article, with only a tiny, hard-to-spot line revealing the truth, and the heading in the article was the same as the book’s title, The Bergen Train Hijacked Last Night, with the rest of the article relating parts of the story without revealing it was fictional.
Understandably, many people fell for the PR-stunt, and Aftenposten was swarmed with inquiries from people wanting to hear if their relatives who had traveled on the Bergen-Oslo railway were okay. The stunt caused a huge sensation that has sometimes been likened to Orson Welles’s alien radio stunt two decades later. It was launched the day before Palm Sunday, just in time for people to pick up the infamous book and read it to coincide with its plot, which was set on April 1, which (apart from adding a delightful April Fool’s aspect to the story) also gave readers a perfect piece of mystery to entertain them over Easter. Although some are skeptical that this could cause such a long-living and well-loved ritual, there are no other prominent explanations for how the now thriving tradition for consuming a bit of blood and gore along with your Easter Eggs in Norway came to be.