Holiday traditions in Sweden

All Saints: lighting a candle for the past

All Saints: lighting a candle for the past
This weekend is All Saints, Allhelgonahelg, when every graveyard in Sweden bathes in the glow of hundreds of flickering candles lit by Swedes coming to remember their dead.

Just as Midsummer celebrates the fullness of Sweden's outdoors and Lucia with its cosiness warms the dark of winter, All Saints plays an important role in the Swedish calendar.

While the saints of the Christian church have been celebrated on this day since the 8th century – when the sheer quantity of saints made it impossible for each to have his or her own day – Lutheran churches have used the day to remember the dead.

The day is more commonly celebrated in Catholic countries, but the grip the tradition has on the Swedish is firm.

For many, Friday is a half day and on Saturday morning the main newspapers are not printed. As dusk falls on Saturday, All Saints Day, Swedes stream towards the country's graveyards armed with candles, matches, wreaths and flowers for the graves of their loved ones.

The beauty of the candlelight blended with a soothing melancholy creates an emotionally-charged atmosphere. Small rural churchyards are visible across fields, dotted with flecks of golden light, while in towns and cities people murmur hushed greetings to those visiting neighbouring graves.

Probably the most spectacular place to witness the festival is the massive cemetery of Skogskyrkogården in the south of Stockholm. Chatty crowds drift from the train station, past hot dog vendors and candle stalls, as if to a football match.

But as they enter the cemetery they are greeted not with the roar of a stadium but with a silence almost as overwhelming. Thousands upon thousands of marshal lights line the winding road into the churchyard, the glare becoming more and more intense until at the top of the hill in the centre there is barely space to walk between the rows of candles.

It is an awe-inspiring sight, but here and there real mourners, perhaps remembering a loved one for the first time, are a reminder of the day's meaning.

Despite the ancient origins of the festival itself, the tradition of lighting a candle is relatively recent. It began only in the early 1900s and it was not until after the Second World War that it became a national activity.

Today, it is more popular than ever, perhaps reflecting a desire among Swedes to maintain their ties with the past in a fast-changing world.

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The Local

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