Halloween vs All Saints Day: How to celebrate in Sweden

Halloween vs All Saints Day: How to celebrate in Sweden
Friday is Halloween - or, according to Swedish tradition, the beginning of the All Saints weekend. How do these traditions differ, and how should you celebrate?

Halloween, an American tradition becoming increasingly popular in Sweden, is extremely different from the Swedish tradition of All Saints. But more and more Swedes are choosing to celebrate both, instead of choosing. So what exactly is the difference?

All Saints

All Saints, Allhelgonahelg,  is when every graveyard in Sweden bathes in the glow of hundreds of flickering candles lit by Swedes coming to remember their dead. This year it is Saturday, November 1st.

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, Lutheran churches have used the day to remember the dead.

The day is more commonly celebrated in Catholic countries, but the tradition still has a firm grip on secular Sweden.

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.

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.

See the beauty of All Saints:

All Saint's Day in Sweden from Christopher Bennison on Vimeo.

Halloween

While Halloween has been celebrated in some corners of Sweden since the 1950s, the holiday’s popularity surged in the early 1990s due in part to efforts by the Hard Rock Café and Butterick’s, a store selling party supplies and costumes.

Halloween's popularity has just grown and grown, and this year Butterick's has large lines outside the store in Stockholm:

For years Swedes only dressed up in "scary" outfits on Halloween, but as times goes by the definition of Halloween becomes broader, and it's becoming much more like the US, where people dress up as anything and everything.

Many clubs and pubs celebrate Halloween, though Swedes aren't too picky about the date. Halloween is always on October 31st, but many Swedes celebrate on November 1st, November 2nd, or even the following weekend. 

In 2011 Sweden also got its very first Halloween parade, which now takes place in Stockholm every year. The "Shockholm" event and parade draws hundreds of visitors, and the Globen arena in Stockholm is lit up like a jack-o-lantern pumpkin for several nights.

Read more about the Shockholm event here. 

In short, there's really no reason to just celebrate one or the other. Swedes love to celebrate, and you, too, can celebrate both! Dress up and party on Halloween, and carve out a pumpkin. And on Saturday, take a walk outside and light a candle at a graveyard.

And enjoy the beginning of winter…for Halloween and All Saints mark the end of autumn and the beginning of the dark season. 


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