Dark, dark, dark, rain rain dark and ho, what do you know…snow! Ok so November is not my favorite month. There is however a reason why the eleventh month of the year does not completely suck. Whether you call it Halloween and dress up as a pumpkin, or Dia de muertos and decorate an altar in your house or Alla helgons dag (All Saints Day) and visit a church to pay your respect to the departed, this time of year calls for commemoration. A time to remember those who have left and cherish their memory and not to forget, cherish those who are around you.
Even though it all is historically linked to a religious celebration, pagan or Christian to start with, it has now turned into tradition and you do not need to believe in anyone or anything to appreciate it or take part.
Talking about religion, Sweden is a country that promotes religious freedom and forbids people being registered based on their beliefs. And that is pretty much what I knew about religion in Sweden, that and the fact that the main religion was Protestantism followed by Islam, Pentecostal and Catholicism. After many years living in the country I thought this was quite embarrassing so I did some reading to address my shortcomings.
A very succinct catch-up on Sweden’s religious history
During the Viking age the Norse religion traditions prevailed, worshipping Gods such as Thor or Odin.
Then came the time of the Catholic missionaries’ proselytism and it is only in the late 15th century that Protestantism took over. In 1593 Lutheranism became Sweden’s official religion and it was so until 2000 when the Church of Sweden was separated from the state.
Up until 1996 every child born with at least one parent member of the Church was automatically considered a member, which would explain that about 65% of the population is a member of the church today while only about 4% actually attend public worship regularly. The number of members actually keeps falling every year.
Attending church events and activities nowadays is more about culture and tradition than actual belief in Christianity. Indeed, like many other secularized countries, Sweden widely celebrates events such as Alla helgons dag, Lucia or Trettondagsafton which all have religious roots; but rarely at Church. As a matter of fact, in a press release from 2012 the Global index or religiosity and atheism showed that just about 29% of the Swedes declared themselves as religious, making Sweden one of the least religious countries in the world.
So what to do on Alla helgons dag?
Well I am glad you ask. At first, nothing I thought. To be honest where I am from we never really considered “La Toussaint” any other way than as an extra day off. Being an expat I obviously have no family in Sweden, let alone a grave to visit and pay my respect to in Stockholm.
I was wrong. Swedes sure know how to turn darkness into magic. While several churches around Stockholm will have concerts and masses we would personally recommend taking a short trip to Skogskyrkogården, the one of a kind cemetery built in 1912 and a Unesco World Heritage site since 1994. It is a beautiful place to check out all year round, but it really feels enchanted that time of year when as many as 50 000 people visit the graveyard and leave candles at the graves. It does not matter if you know someone or not, you are welcome to participate or just observe the scene from Almhöjden, the meditation grove – thousands of candles flames glowing in the dark, thousands of souls, walking the paths.