How Scandinavians Celebrate All Saint’s Day

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We discover how the day to honour the dead is exulted in a traditional Nordic fashion.

The way we celebrate Halloween is different all over the world. In the US, Canada and the UK, we recognise the holiday as a joyous event for trick or treating, watching scary movies and dressing in the most outlandish costumes to post on Facebook or Instagram. Whereas, Día de los Muertos or the Day of the Dead is a tradition in Mexico and other South American countries to respect the deceased between 31st October and 2nd November. The dates mirror All Saint’s Day, having originally been celebrated in the Summer. Despite this, the Mexican custom matches more closely to how the Scandinavian people’s celebrations are arranged.

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Much like the subtle and serene lighting of the lanterns in Chinese culture as well – which originated from the Eastern Han Dynasty 25-220 AD – the infinite glow of twinkling lights from candles are used for a melancholic beauty. Relatives will embark on a journey of remembrance and light a candle as a symbol of their loved one’s spirit that still lives on. As with the traditional gathering over Midsummer, a decorative element is applied to the gravestones with candles. Not exactly in the same manner as wearing flowers in one’s hair and raising the maypole for the Summer Solstice, but the sense of honour; reflecting on family life and cultural activities are given a meaningful platform with a public holiday.

The roots to All Saint’s Day are steeped in history that dates back to 731 AD when those who were canonised were given a collective day – the 1st of November – to be recognised. This was mainly for those saints without their own dedicated days to be commemorated. Since then, the dates have been changed throughout the centuries to the 2nd of November – All Soul’s Day – in the eleventh century up until it became a widespread occasion in the shadow of the Second World War.

Now, parties and concerts are even organised by families and the Church itself. So remember, remember this November the people you have lost with fond memories. Light a candle and embrace this moment wherever you are in the world.

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