How Sweden celebrates All Saint’s Day: Go ahead + embrace the dark

Know what I did yesterday? I stayed in bed almost all day long. I woke early (as usual). Scrolled through my phone for a tiny bit – that’s right – I can’t seem to break that habit. And then got up and made coffee with freshly ground beans, lit candles, + turned on twinkle lights.Then I snuggled into the leather cabin chair in the kitchen, sipped my coffee, and read.  It was pretty damn magical. After I had finished my cup of coffee, I refilled it and climbed in bed again, joining my love who was also surrounded by candles, reading quietly. We sat for hours in silence. Doing our thing. And I’ve stayed here all day, minus some laundry and cooking. It has been productive and slow and intentional. And the perfect way to end a purely magical, staycation week that eased me into the dark, winter time that is now upon us.

This time, between Halloween/Samhain and the first few days of November is sacred. Not only do we mark the changing of the seasons from autumn to winter, but we also literally find ourselves in the darkest period of the year. November, December, and January are the months that envelop us in a seemingly never-ending night. It is the time of year when we literally see the process of death + dying; and thereby, we are reminded of our mortality, and of our own pending death.

Especially during the first week or so of November we really ponder death as we honor all of those who have gone before us. All of those who are part of our cloud of witnesses, who live on in spirit, but are no longer present on the earth.

It is a quiet, pensive, mellow time. Holy and slow.

Many churches celebrate the dead, at this time of year, by reading aloud names of members who have died throughout the year. Other people celebrate by putting out food or other items on All Hallow’s Eve, hoping to help their loved ones. And others visit cemeteries and grave sites.

In Sweden, the tradition is extremely beautiful. Cemeteries all over the country are filled with lights and candles and fire. Family members put out special candles that burn for days and decorate the grave stones of loved ones with a little extra care.

People mill about from twilight at 3pm until well past dark on the few days after Alll Saint’s Day on November 1. They allow themselves to come facing to face with death. Admitting it. Embracing it. Mourning for losses, remembering good times, and silently gathering together as a community, even if no one speaks a word to another. There’s no need to talk, everyone knows what everyone is doing. It’s peaceful and intentional and beautiful and sacred.

On Saturday, the official All Saint’s Day celebration day in Sweden, Lina and I walked with some family members through the big, old cemetery in downtown Uppsala. We strolled around, beginning at twilight, and then went our separate ways after paying our respects to a family member.

Just the two of us, Lina and I walked arm in arm, slowly up and down the rows, stopping to read tombstones. Whispering with one another. Feeling the pain of losing Lina’s grandmother and a dear friend of ours… both at this time last year. But, we also laughed and discussed the mystery of the unknown, feeling comforted by the mere sight of a society that pays attention to death… a society that sets apart an entire day, where people flock to cemeteries to remember and to gain perspective.

Filled with thoughts + feelings after we had wandered a while, we slowly walked home. A bit melancholic, and, yet, filled with inspiration. What a gift it was to experience this tradition once again. To celebrate life through the recognition of death. And somehow, magically, in honoring death, we learn a little bit more about what it means to really live.

So, dear friends, dare to face death. Dare to feel your fear. Dare to admit your insecurities. Embrace the mystery of the unknown. And then, rise again to make your life exactly what you want it to be with every breath you take.

Perhaps by stopping for just one moment, to remember that we all will all face our own death one day, we will learn to live our life just a little bit more right here, right now. Soaking up + making the most of every single beautiful, terrible, sacred second of this life on earth. ❍↟

xoxo. liz.


4 thoughts on “How Sweden celebrates All Saint’s Day: Go ahead + embrace the dark

  1. I love these dark photos of the cemetery with the lights. Also, I enjoyed hearing about the tradition there. You’re my source for all Sweden-related stuff. 🙂 How many hours of daylight do you get during the winter there? I think you wrote about that once but I don’t remember what you said.

    1. Hehe! I’ll take that job! Sounds fun to be the point person for Swedish things! When it is the darkest, we have about 5 hours of daylight. 🙂

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