all hallows’ day – the swedish version

In Sweden we have never really been that into all this Halloween stuff until it became popular because of American culture.

However, we have been celebrating All Hallows’ Day since the 700’s. In Sweden there’s a difference between All Saints’ Day and All Hallows’ Day. All Saints’ Day is always on 1st November, but All Hallows’ Day is since the 50’s the Saturday that falls between 31st October and 6th November.

When Sweden became protestant, All Saints’ Day was supposed to ‘disappear’ since saints were a Catholic thing. So in 1772 it was removed as a public holiday. In 1953 we caused a split between All Saints’ Day and All Hallows’ Day by making All Hallows’ Day a fluctuating date and reinstated it as a public holiday. So we have All Hallows’ Eve (31st October), All Saints’ Day (1st November) and All Hallows’ Day (varying).

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Since about the 1800’s, Swedish people have been lighting candles at graves on All Hallows’ Day – particularly children’s graves. This was already commonplace in Sweden, but had usually been done on Christmas Eve. The practice grew, and after the Second World War it became even more so as it was picked up by Catholic European countries.

It still remains a tradition among Swedish people today, and Skogskyrkogården (the Stockholm cemetery that’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site) say they have around 70,000 visitors on that weekend.

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Seeing as I had S and one of his friends from London over for the weekend, I decided to ask if they wanted to go to Skogskyrkogården. This mass-lighting of candles at All Hallows’ Day is not something that’s really done in the UK, so I thought it would be a nice experience and something very Swedish to tell people in London about.

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Greta Garbo is buried at Skogskyrkogården, and a lot of fans had been there to light candles.

As we were walking around the cemetery it started snowing, and it hasn’t really stopped since. There’s an old farmers’ tale that says that “if the sun doesn’t shine long enough for you to saddle a horse on 1st November, it’ll be a cold winter”. I hope they’re right.

/t

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