Monday, November 05, 2007

Halloween, Alla Helgons Dag, Holidays and Culture

As I watched the students with whom I work scramble to figure out the answer to what I thought was a simple question, “Does Sweden have Halloween and if so, when is it?,” I began to consider some elements of holidays and culture and, as you might have guessed, a blog entry was born.

After a year of simply observing the holidays of Sweden, an easy and very effective way to get to know a culture and discover what is meaningful in a society, this week I would like to put some words to my thoughts about holidays and traditions in Sweden.

This past week, Swedes celebrated Halloween (sort of) and Alla Helgons Dag or “All Saints Day.” In the U.S., we may hear about All Saints Day, knowing it happens sometime after Halloween (actually the day after) but very few pay close attention to it. Halloween has all the festivity, candy, costumes, attention and purchasing power that the U.S. wants.

One of the two major influences of the Swedish calendar and holidays is the Swedish church, Svenskyrkan, and the recognition of many saints and holy days throughout the year. Some of these days are official holidays (Ascension Day in May) and others are playful remembrances, yet still filled with meaning (Santa Lucia). Alla Helgons Dag in Sweden is celebrated in churches, with choir concerts in cathedrals and by the lighting of candles at the graveside of deceased loved ones (which makes for a beautifully solemn and reflective walk through a cemetery at night). As far as I can tell, Halloween has come in from outside of Sweden and is celebrated mostly by younger people (but not children, mind you – no trick-or-treating as far as I know) as an excuse to dress-up in costumes, eat, drink and be merry.

As for Sweden, the interplay of Halloween and Alla Helgons Dag perhaps serves as a nice little microcosm of what is happening in Swedish society in general. The holiday of Alla Helgons Dag is celebrated as one of the many traditional Svenskyrka, Swedish Church, holidays and Halloween, on the other hand, doesn’t fit quite right and seems to be media-influenced, even American-influenced and perhaps Swedes aren’t sure what to do with it? My research on this topic is woefully poor for the speculation I am attempting, but maybe some of Linköpinglivin’s Swedish friends could help us foreigners out on the whole Halloween-according-to-Sweden thing.

Safe to say, however, that some holidays are uniquely Swedish/Scandinavian and others are here for many different reasons, but just don't feel Swedish...a reflection of a continually changing, small but proud, society in today's world.

By the way, the other “major influence” of the Swedish calendar and holidays is simply the climate, the extremes of being this far north. Light, dark, warm and cold….

Speaking of holidays, make one more check mark under “Sweden as a Fairy Tale land.” Swedes, though not official holidays, celebrate the informal holidays of Kanelbullens Dag ("Cinnamon Bun Day" on October 4) and Våffeldagen ("Waffle Day" on March 25, strangely connected to the day Mary was first "with child").

I love Sweden.

Pictures above:

1. Trevlig Halloween!
2. A zombie and two Swedish angels share in a Colonia “Halloweensittning.”
3. Midsummer in June, in addition to Santa Lucia in December, is a great example of a holiday dictated by climate that means something much more in the extreme climate of the north than closer to the equator where there simply aren't seasons during the year.
4. Shaking the sugar during this year’s Kanelbullens Dag celebration at Colonia.
5. You simply can’t have too many Cinnamon Buns in Sweden. Fika forever!


Hans Persson said...

Halloween is new in Sweden, having been imported from the US during the last, say, 15 years. To begin with, it was something students used as a reason to throw yet another party. Nowaday we get kids trick-or-treat:ing as well. I got 4+3 coming to my door, all dressed up ("Bus eller godis?!").

Todd said...

What about Aquavitdagen? Pippidagen? Saabdagen? Volvodagen? certainly there's an IKEAdagen?

Sean, clearly there is more research to be done.

Kelly T. Smith said...

We started Halloween in Sweden. Our exchange program from California was housed in Flogstavagen in Upplsala. Forty of us held a great Halloween party in costumes. (I was a dog, my future wife a rabbit.) I could tell that the Swedes were curious about the whole thing. Plenty of them participated in the party. This was in 1976-77. That's when Halloween started in Sweden. Ask anybody...