All Saints’ Day and Halloween – how to combine two different traditions

A picture named M2

The Swedes have a different way to remember their deceased than the Americans, however, the Halloween parties are becoming more popular in Sweden every year. November 1 is always the All Saints’ Day. It used to be a national holiday up until 1773 when King Gustaf III removed it as holiday. The All Saints’ Day is celebrated in the memory of the saints and martyrs of the church. The celebration of the saints and the martyrs expanded to be also a day to remember deceased family and friends.  In 1954 the Saturday falling closest to the Allahelgonadagen was declared a national holiday in honor of all deceased forefathers and family members.  On that day, Swedes visit the graves of their family and light candles on their graves. It is a very quiet and beautiful tradition where hundreds of candles are lighting up the dark November night and in silence, people visit the graves of loved ones no longer with them.


The tradition to light candles on graves came to Sweden from the catholic Spain and Italy’s Requiem Mass, a tradition from the year 1000 to give the souls of the dead requiem aeternam, eternal rest.

 On Ireland the Celtic New Year is celebrated on November 1st when the light time of the year was replaced with the dark time of the year, the night before November 1st was considered magic and evil spirits and ghosts where running amok as the door to the kingdom of death were open on that night so that all inhabitants could visit those still alive. Therefore the Celts lit bonfires to keep the supernatural away. There was a party all night and food was offered to the dead. This heathen tradition was not liked by the church that replaced this deeply rooted habit with All Hallows Day that today is called Halloween.  

Even though the church has fought hard to make people celebrate the saints, the tradition of celebrating the souls of dead family members has been maintained.  The church then tried to introduce an All Souls’ Day when people were supposed to pray for lost souls to not go to hell.

Scotland and Ireland never really forgot their Celtic roots though and from there the modern trick or treat traditions spread to the USA.  

The All Saint’s Day and Halloween day are two very different holidays and for a Swede it is somewhat difficult to get used to the trick or treat traditions, stemming from the fear of the dead. Our tradition is to remember our deceased by lighting a single candle on a loved one’s grave.  

The past few years our family has a tradition on Halloween to invite friends for food and a bonfire. We have dinner in our house and afterwards we have desert by a bonfire where we sit quietly and look at the fire and think about our deceased family and friends. Every year more Americans show up to this celebration and I think many of them prefer this quiet way of celebration Halloween.

If you have any special Swedish –American traditions for Allahelgons Dag and Halloween, please feel free to share with us.

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