Alla Helgons Dag – a day for reflection
While Halloween celebrators have a lie in and maybe sleep off their hangover on 1st of November, many Swedes take to cemeteries at dusk to light candles on graves and reflect on loved ones they have lost, while strolling through the crisp autumnal landscapes.
Origins of Alla Helgons Dag
According to sweden.se, in the year 731 AD, 1 November was designated a day of remembrance for saints of the church who had no days of their own. From the 11th century, 2 November was dedicated to all the dead, of whatever standing, and was called All Souls’ Day. It was widely observed by the populace, with requiems and bell-ringing, but was abolished with the arrival of the Reformation. In 1772, All Saints’ Day in Sweden was moved to the first Sunday in November and in 1953 to the Saturday between 31 October and 6 November.
In the 1900s, however, people began putting lit candles on the graves of the departed on All Saints’ Day. This custom originated with wealthy families in towns and cities. But after the World War II, it spread throughout the country. Churches also began holding services of light to mark the day.
In the north of Sweden, All Saints’ Day marks the first day of winter and the traditional start of the alpine ski season. Until recently, shops and stores were closed to mark the occasion. Although this is no longer the case everywhere, many Swedes take the day off. Those who don’t visit cemeteries usually stay at home with the family and cook something together. Many churches organise concerts to celebrate All Saints’ Day.
Where to see Alla Helgons Dag
Any cemetery will be beautiful to stroll through at dusk (make sure to check what time the sun sets).
If you happen to be in Stockholm, you might want to go and visit Skogskyrkogården. It is a very large cemetery just south of Stockholm, and it is also a UNSECO World Heritage site. It is easily accessible on the metro, green line number 18 towards Farsta or Farsta strand. The stop is called Skogskyrkogården.