Halloween the Swedish way
Sweets-starved demons haunt the streets and pumpkins flicker. It’s Halloween!
Halloween is a relatively new custom in Sweden. It has only been celebrated in Sweden since the 1990s, and has rapidly become established in the country. By the beginning of November, Sweden is enveloped in darkness and the long working weeks stretch away endlessly.
There are no public holidays or extended weekends in the calendar between the summer holiday and All Saints’ Day. Halloween heralds the schools’ autumn break and represents a welcome diversion in the gathering dark.
Dress parties and pumpkins
The occasion is mainly celebrated by children and teenagers. They go to fancy-dress parties and ghost parties, light lanterns and venture forth into the streets to scare the life out of the neighbourhood. Many pubs and restaurants stage Halloween parties and decorate their premises with fearsome attributes. Halloween has come to stay.
On the island of Öland in the southern Baltic Sea, the arrival of Halloween has led to an upswing in pumpkin growing, and the giant fruits are now quite readily available.
Halloween in Sweden – the origins
With the rise of Christianity, the heathen Samhain came to be called Hallowmas, or All Saints’ Day, to commemorate the souls of the dead who had been canonised that year, so the night before became popularly known as Halloween, All Hallows Eve. Today, though, Swedish All Saints' Day always falls on a Saturday, which means that it only occasionally comes straight after Halloween.
Samhain was a Celtic harvest festival marking the end of summer and the beginning of winter labours. That night was regarded as a magical time of transition, when the dead called on the living and various supernatural creatures were afoot. People lit fires, dressed up and went round begging from door to door (trick or treat). They carved faces in turnips and lit them inside with candles. These glowing vegetables were supposed to represent the wandering soul of Jack the Blacksmith and were called Jack O’Lanterns.
Halloween was imported into the US by Irish immigrants in the 1840s and became a popular festivity there. The pumpkin replaced the turnip and the occasion was celebrated with trick or treat and special parades. In the 1990s, Halloween became established in Sweden, where it is mainly celebrated in macabre fashion by children and young people.