Stockholm's Woodland Cemetery lit up by candles on the graves.
Photo: Cecilia Larsson Lantz/Imagebank.sweden.se

All Saints’ Day in Sweden

Cemeteries are aglow on All Saints’ Day, as candles are lit for lost loved ones.

The countless points of light from the candles and lanterns placed on graves form beautiful patterns in the snow and lend a special feel to the landscape. People also lay flowers and wreaths on graves on All Saints’ Day. A jar of flowering heather stands up well to the cold.

First day of winter

In southern Sweden, outdoor work is nearing completion, while in the north, 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, most Swedes take the day off, and those who don’t visit cemeteries usually stay at home with the family and cook an ambitious meal of some kind. Many churches organise concerts to celebrate All Saints’ Day.

All Saints’ Day – the origins

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 lighted 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.