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HALLOWEEN

How is All Saints Day marked in Sweden?

All Saints Day has its roots in Catholic tradition, and today it's a chance for people in Sweden to remember all the people they have known and lost. Here's what you need to know about the custom.

How is All Saints Day marked in Sweden?
Lanterns cast light over graves at Stockholm's Woodland Cemetery. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

In the ninth century, November 1st was chosen as the day to celebrate saints who didn’t have their own designated feast day. Even after Sweden became a Protestant country, and today is one of the most secular countries in the world, All Saints is a tradition that has lived on.

The Swedish language has two words for All Saints Day: allhelgonadagen and Alla helgons dag. There’s a difference between the two, since the former refers specifically to November 1st, while Alla helgons dag is always the first Saturday in November. In 2021, that’s November 6th.

Initially, both terms were used to mean November 1st, but Alla helgons dag has since come to mean the first Saturday in November, meaning the date changes each year.


A woman and child visit a grave on Alla helgons dag. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

For several centuries it was marked on November’s first Sunday until in 1953, Sweden’s government moved Alla helgons dag from Sunday to Saturday. At the time, many people worked on Saturdays so the decision was intended to increase the number of days off work. Because the government didn’t want to remove the right of people to mark November 1st as All Saints Day, that has remained in the calendar as allhelgonadagen.

Technically, Alla helgons dag remains a public holiday, but since it’s always during a weekend, that doesn’t mean much to many people.

If you’re lucky, your employer might be one of those which offers a half-day before public holidays, and there is also an exemption from congestion charges in Gothenburg and Stockholm on the days immediately preceding public holidays.

The public holiday also means that Systembolaget, the state-owned alcohol monopoly, is closed on Alla helgons dag (November 6th), so any alcohol for the weekend needs to be bought before the shops close on the Friday.

Otherwise, this is a quiet holiday rather than a day of celebration, as its origins are about remembering the dead. Many people use All Saints Day to visit family members’ or friends’ graves, care for the burial site, and bring extra decorations such as wreaths and, in particular, candles. The Sunday following Alla helgons dag is known as All Souls Day, when people remember all the dead, regardless of sainthood.

A fairly recent way of marking All Saints in Sweden is to light candles and place them on relatives’ graves.

The first recorded mention of this was in the 1920s at Värmdö, but recent surveys show the tradition now takes place at every single cemetery in Sweden.

Even if you don’t have relatives or friends buried in Sweden to commemorate, visiting a graveyard during All Saints Day is a beautiful and peaceful experience. Just remember to be respectful to the people who are mourning.

The biggest Alla helgons dag commemorations in the country take place at Stockholm’s Woodland Cemetery, Skogskyrkogården. As always, it’s free to enter this Unesco World Heritage Site, which takes on a special atmosphere as thousands of people visit to pay their respects to the dead, with lanterns lighting the way.

And wherever you are in the country, many churches host special services to remember the dead, will have staff on hand to assist with finding graves. At many places, churches will have coffee and gingerbread on offer for visitors too. You can visit your local Church of Sweden website to find out more about the events at your local churches.

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EASTER

The must-have dishes for a Swedish Easter celebration

If you've spent Christmas or Midsummer in Sweden before, you'll probably recognise lots of the dishes at a Swedish Easter celebration. Here's our guide, as well as some vegetarian alternatives.

The must-have dishes for a Swedish Easter celebration

A traditional Swedish Easter menu is very similar to a Christmas julbord, although slightly lighter, with a focus on eggs and fish rather than the winter season’s cabbage and kale dishes. Here’s our rundown of what you should expect, as well as how you can make it yourself.

Herring

The most important part of the Easter table for many Swedes is the pickled herring (sill). In many families, one particular member of the family will be tasked with preparing the herring for the Easter meal weeks in advance.

If you’re based in Sweden, you can buy herring in the supermarket, although most will say that homemade pickled herring is superior. Vegetarian or vegan pickled herring substitutes such as svill (made from mushrooms) and tofusill (made from tofu) are also commercially available.

If you are planning on making your own pickled herring for Easter, you have a few options. Either you can buy ready-salted herring fillets in the supermarket which can be pickled straight away, or you will have to buy fresh herring fillets which you salt yourself – the latter option can take up to two weeks so requires a bit of advance planning.

You can also make your own vegetarian options: try pickling aubergine, courgette or tofu. Most recipes will take at least two days, with the herring or alternative of choice needing to marinate overnight before serving, so get planning now if you want to have it on the table for Saturday.

Here are a selection of pickled herring recipes from John Duxbury’s Swedish Food website.

Salmon

Most Easter tables will feature at least two sorts of salmon, one is often a baked side of salmon. You’ll often see smoked salmon and gravad lax (literally “buried”, preserved in salt, sugar and often dill) alongside hovmästarsås, a mustard and dill sauce which is also served at Christmas.

If you don’t eat fish, you can make a vegetarian or vegan version of gravad lax from carrots. This is usually referred to as gravad morot. Here’s a recipe (in Swedish) from the book Vegansk husmanskost by Gustav Johansson. Again, it needs to be marinated overnight, so make sure to plan this in advance.

Scrambled egg with cod roe, truffle and dill served in eggshells. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Eggs

No Easter meal would be complete without eggs. The most usual form of eggs you’ll see is cold, hardboiled eggs sliced in half. Some people will also top these half-eggs with mayonnaise, prawns and cod roe, known as kaviar in Swedish. This is sold in small glass jars in the fridge section of the supermarket, and can be orange or black – not the same as Kalles kaviar!

To make these vegetarian, you can leave out the prawns and use a vegetarian version of kaviar made from seaweed. Look for tångkaviar, which may be in the fish section of the supermarket, or the vegetarian section, if your supermarket has one of these.

If you live outside Sweden, you may be able to source tångkaviar in the food market at your local Ikea.

For a vegan option, try sliced tofu topped with vegan mayonnaise (spiked with black salt, if you can get hold of it, which will give it an eggy flavour). Top with tångkaviar and a sprig of dill and you’re good to go.

Matjes-style herring served with crispbread, boiled new potatoes with dill, cheese and diced onions. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

Boiled potatoes with dill

This is pretty self-explanatory. Boiled new potatoes with their skins on, served cold with dill.

Jansson’s temptation

Although more of a Christmas dish, some families also serve Jansson’s temptation, a creamy potato casserole baked in the oven, at Easter.

Jansson’s is made using Swedish ansjovis, known as sprats in English. Although it may be tempting, you should avoid substituting ansjovis with anchovies – the former are much milder and spiced, whereas the latter will be far too salty.

One option, which also has the benefit of being vegetarian, could be to use similar spices to create the same flavour you would gain from the ansjovis. Try simmering the cream used in your Jansson’s for a couple of minutes with a pinch of ground allspice, a pinch of ground cloves, a pinch of ground ginger, a pinch of white pepper and a few bay leaves instead.

Check out this Jansson’s temptation recipe from our archives.

Goat’s cheese filled lamb fillets with beans and tenderstem broccoli. Photo: Leif R Jansson/TT

Lamb

Roast lamb is also becoming more and more popular at Easter, usually as a roast joint of lamb or a rack of lamb.

This can be difficult to make a convincing vegetarian version of, but vegetarian meatballs or sausages could be a good substitute at your Easter buffet.

Easter egg

If there’s one thing you definitely shouldn’t forget at Easter, it’s the Easter eggs. Swedish Easter eggs are less chocolatey than in other countries. The eggs themselves are not edible – they are made of cardboard with Easter-themed designs – and are filled with sweets. 

These are easy to make vegetarian or vegan, just double-check that any sweets you include don’t contain animal-derived gelatin, and leave out the milk chocolate for any vegans.

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