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The Saturday between 31 October and 6 November is called All Saints' Day and is the first day of the All Saints' Weekend. Many Swedes visit cemeteries to light candles and commemorate the dead.
Rituals linked to death were performed at this time of year already in pre-Christian times, when older cultures related the death of nature in autumn to the honouring of the memory of the dead. When Sweden became Christian, All Saints' Day was introduced as an ecclesiastical custom. It is mentioned earliest in the Vallentuna Calendar of 1198, where it is counted among the second class of holidays. However, the tradition goes back to the 7th century, when Pope Gregory III chose to make 1 November the day of gathering for all the saints and martyrs who could not be given their own day in the calendar.
Although saint worship is not part of the practice of the Protestant Church, All Saints' Day survived the Reformation and has thus been an unbroken part of the Swedish church year to this day. Over time, the tradition evolved into a universal day of remembrance for the dead. In 1953, the reform of holy days moved All Saints' Day from 1 November to a nearby Saturday.
The practice of lighting candles on graves only became common in the post-war period. The origins of this custom are different: perhaps the tradition was brought to Sweden by Italian workers at the Gustavsberg porcelain factory, perhaps it was inspired by the war graves in Normandy. Now the lighting of the candles is the most central ritual of the weekend and thousands of flames burn in our cemeteries on this particular night of the year.
In peasant society, All Saints' Day was seen as the first day of winter and was used to predict winter weather: if the sun shone for less time than it took to saddle a horse, the winter would be very snowy.
Modéus, Martin (2000), Tradition and life, Verbum
Originally published on Cultural memory.
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