All Saints Day is an official holiday in the Swedish calendar. It is celebrated on the Saturday that falls between the 31st October and the 6th November. Many businesses close early on Friday afternoon, and
All Saints Day is an official holiday in the Swedish calendar. It is celebrated on the Saturday that falls between the 31st October and the 6th November. Many businesses close early on Friday afternoon, and remain closed on Saturday.
In contrast to the preceding Hallowe’en festivities that see people walking the streets dressed up as ghouls, vampires and witches, All Saints Day is a day of quiet reflection and dignified respect towards the dead. As night falls on the Saturday, cemeteries across the country are lit up with flickering candles as people pay their respects to family members and dearly missed friends.
One of the best places to witness All Saints Day in Sweden is at Skogskyrkogården, Stockholm’s largest cemetery in the south of the city.
I had heard that it is a beautiful spectacle, and one that I wanted to see for myself, so I headed to the cemetery at 6pm when it was fully dark.
I could see the lights from the cemetery before the train pulled into the station, and was surprised to see how busy the platform was when I alighted the train. I don’t know what I had expected, but I was surprised to see a trail of thousands of people walking to and from the cemetery – many bearing wreaths and candles, but just as many armed with cameras and tripods. This certainly would not be an opportunity to say goodbye to your loved ones alone.
The road to the cemetery was lined with stalls selling lanterns and ubiquitous Swedish hot dog stands. Surprisingly, the atmosphere resembled that of a carnival. Families walked along together chatting animatedly and laughing. Young groups of sullen teens walked alongside the elderly. Spoken English was as audible as Swedish revealing that I was certainly not the only foreigner in the crowds.
The vibrant atmosphere changed quickly at the cemetery gates as we were faced with the poignant view of thousands of candles flickering in the night sky. The screams and laughter decreased to hushed reverent tones that brought a tear to my eye. Whatever reasons brought these thousands of people to visit this place on this night were put aside for quiet reflection and the utmost respect for the dead.
Despite the camera-toting crowds, it is impossible to forget the real reason that many people come to the cemeteries on All Saints Day: families mourning, couples embracing, individuals kneeling at a single tombstone are a stark reminder that, for many, All Saints Day is a day of remembrance and sadness for those who have 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 our time is short and that we should make the most of what time we have while we have it. The laughter of children is a reminder that life goes on and that the dead would not deny us our happiness.
And what a beautiful way to remember them.
To reach the cemetery you take the tunnelbana toward Farsta Strand on the green line. 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.