All Saints’ Day is an official holiday in Sweden that usually falls on the first Saturday in November. On this weekend, many businesses close early on Friday, remaining closed on Saturday. This means that people who want to buy their Halloween alcohol from Systembolaget – Sweden’s state-owned liquor store – must go on Friday. However, it seems to me that All Saints’ Day is more observed than Halloween here.
In contrast to Halloween, where children dress as ghouls, vampires and witches, All Saints’ Day quietly remembers the dead. When night falls across the country, cemeteries light up with candles in memory of dearly missed family members.
Skogskyrkogården, Stockholm’s largest cemetery
Ever since arriving in Sweden, friends said that All Saints’ Day is beautiful, so naturally I wanted to see it. They told me the best place to experience it is Skogskyrkogården in the south of Stockholm. On their advice, I went to the cemetery once it was dark.
As soon as I approached the station, I saw hundreds of flames dancing in the dark: an impressive and beautiful sight. Moments later, I stepped onto a crowded platform. People carried beautiful wreaths and many had cameras. One thing is certain, All Saints’ Day isn’t an opportunity to mourn your loved ones alone.
Surprisingly, the atmosphere resembles a carnival: lantern stalls and hot dog stands lined the street. As families walked, they laughed and talked together. Teens even accompanied the elderly. It’s noticeable that there is a lovely family atmosphere. Another thing that surprised me was how much English I could hear, revealing that I was not the only foreigner in the crowds.
However, at the cemetery gates, as we faced the poignant view of thousands of candles flickering in the night sky, the vibrant atmosphere changed. Immediately, laughter turned to hushed, reverent whispers.
Remembering those we’ve lost
Despite the crowds, it is impossible to forget the real reason why people visit the cemetery on All Saints’ Day. Families mourning, embracing, and kneeling at a single tombstone are stark reminders that, for many, All Saints’ Day is a day of respect. People gather to remember those they loved and lost.
It is not a melancholy event; however. It is a celebration of life. The fragile lights that dance in the darkness remind us that time is short. We should make the most of every minute we have. Yet, the laughter of families is a reminder that life goes on and that the dead would never deny us our happiness.
And what a beautiful way to remember them.
If you want to see All Saints’ Day at Skogskyrkogården take the Green Line from T-Centralen toward Farsta Strand. Get off at Skogskyrkogården station; you will see the candles from the cemetery as the train pulls into the station, from there you can just follow the crowd to the cemetery.
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Wow! What a spectacle! Thanks for sharing, Elaine!
Such a beautiful cultural tradition and certainly worth celebrating.
It really is!
Despite my Swedish heritage, I did not know this was a widely celebrated holiday in Sweden. I can imagine how beautiful and special the scene is at night on All Saints. Thanks for sharing this experience.
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I think it is more understated in other cities than Stockholm. I went to the cemetery in Gävle this year, and although it was full of candles, it was not busy with people. It was very beautiful.
What a lovely tradition! Really enjoyed learning about this part of Swedish culture.
Thank you. It is a lovely tradition.