Something Swedish

Halloween in Sweden

22 Comments

Growing up in New York Halloween meant dressing up for costume parties, bobbing for apples, and trick or treating door to door. Even stores and businesses stock up candy to give to the kids. When I was a little older Halloween was more about the massive candy sales, carving jack o’lanterns, and decorating with gravestones, half buried skeletons, glow in the dark eyes, and cobwebs. You can’t go anywhere without seeing spooky decorations everywhere.

Pumpkin Picking Two Years Ago vs. “Bobbing for Pumpkins” This Year

The cashiers literary didn’t know how to ring it up or what to charge.

Halloween in Sweden just isn’t the same. There’s the occasional costume party. Some bars have Halloween themed nights. But… there’s no decorated houses, porches or windows. No Pop-up Halloween stores to excitedly browse. No gigantic bags of individually wrapped candy that will be half price in a week. No candy corn. No haunted houses. No pumpkin patches to find the perfect pumpkin. No excited trick or treaters. (So Far)

Thankfully, our local bakery bakes Halloween themed cakes:

The Americanized Halloween traditions I’m so used to were introduced to Sweden in the 1990’s, supposedly from Hard Rock Cafe and a Swedish year-round costume chain called “Buttericks”, but American traditions are also widely known and sometimes mimicked in Sweden through TV and Movies. With all the hype and festivities, a lot of people forget that Halloween is not an American holiday, but instead has Pagan (fall harvest festival of Samhain) and Christian (All Saints Eve/ All Hallows’ Eve) roots, which was brought to America by the surge of Irish immigrants in the 19th century and became mainstream in the 20th century.

Similarly to Valentines day (Read Here), Halloween is observed and known in Sweden, but not nearly to the same extent. This is ALL of the Halloween stuff I could find  in town, aside from a couple bars and bakeries:

I’ve read a few interesting reasons why Sweden hasn’t jumped on the Halloween bandwagon:

1) All Saints Day is traditionally observed here, which is a time to pay respect to saints, visit the graves of loved ones, and light candles in remembrance. The two holidays conflict too much, as the contrast between them is too drastic. Some think they are the same day, but they are not. Alla Helgons Dag = All Saints Day Alla Helgons Afton (eve) = Halloween

2) Many people here view Halloween as only celebrating with scary costumes such as skeletons, ghosts, witches, and zombies (From the few Halloween costumes I’ve found in stores I’ve never seen anything cute and fun like princess’s, cowboys, cartoon characters, or superheroes) Too many “Tricks” are associated as part of the regular tradition, such as toilet papering and throwing rotten eggs. This seems to discourage parents.

3) Youngsters in Sweden dress up as witches for Easter (Read here), starsholders for Lucia, and gingerbread cookies for Christmas. Another costume? No Thanks.

4) Trick or Treating is pointless when Swedes have a huge  lösgodis (Loose candy) consumption and buy candy regularly.

Some confusion about the “When” is also a part of the Swedish Halloween downfall. While some people celebrate on the “traditional” or “popular” date October 31st, some Swedes will still celebrate Halloween on the eve of All Saints Day, even though it is now a floating date –  the first Saturday between October 31st and November 6th. I’ve read stories of expats being very confused about finally receiving their first ever trick or treaters, but it was almost a week later and they weren’t prepared. There are also some school parties or bar themed parties the weekend BEFORE, which spreads out the holiday celebration even thinner.

I was sad to hear that carving pumpkins is also not too common (I’ve seen two outside of a toy store), and many Swedes have never carved a pumpkin! I couldn’t resist the tradition- and it turns out my husband HAS carved pumpkins and is quite skilled at it!

I just stumbled upon a website for a pumpkin patch  in Sweden that an American started in 1998: Louie’s Pumpkin Patch  It might be something to check out next year!

Additionally the island of Öland has a yearly fall harvest festival Skördefest during the last days on September, which looks like fun! Öland  is known for the Swedish pumpkin growing, and has expanded since the introduction of Halloween.

I dressed up a little witchy to celebrate All Hallows Eve, and was met with strange looks. Maybe because it was during the day. I’ve heard reports from classmates of spotting other people dressed up, but haven’t seen more than two.

 

My earrings are cute spiders…because the devil is in the details 🙂

Next year I’m having a Halloween party to bring the celebration to ME.

In the meantime, I’m planning Thanksgiving Dinner for my Swedish family! Any tips?

Happy Halloween Everyone! *And a lot of love and prayers to those who lost so so much in Hurricane Sandy, I am thankful that my friends and family only sustained minimal damage but NYC as a whole is on my mind – Halloween has been a needed distraction.*

Vocabulary

Halloween – Alla Helgons Afton
To Celebrate – Att Fira
Pumpkin – Pumpa
Candle – Ljus
Costume –  Maskeraddräkt
Witch – Häxa
Spider – Spindel
Ghost – Spöke

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22 thoughts on “Halloween in Sweden

  1. Thanksgiving! Now you’re talking. I would like to introduce it to Sweden, since people in this country have a lot to be thankful for. A couple students in my English class were in Canada for their Thanksgiving, which is celebrated on a different day than in the U.S., and they really enjoyed the turkey, so there may be hope.

  2. Mariette here. I think your post was incredible. Its just spot on describing the lack
    of Halloween here and why. Working in a preschool, I suggested the kids dress up and the other teachers were like: no way, all that scary and gory stuff can not be in our school. they have not gotten the hang of it at all. Maybe it will sink in one day how much fun it can be. Dan keeps bugging me about thanksgiving and I keep saying that its like celebrating the Swedish National Day in the US. I mean there were no indians here giving people turkey, corn and stuff… I don´t think that will ever catch on and I think that Dan just misses the turkey so much. Anyway thanks for putting so much care into this post. Mariette

    • Hej Mariette! Exactly, all I saw was very gorey costumes, which aren’t what we focus on in the US. I think since the holiday is more geared towards the older crowd and bar/club scene, that’s all there is – no younger costumes or trick or treating or fun costumes. Although, I must say that I was surprised during Friday + Sat because I saw a lot more people dressed up, and bartenders have professional make up artists as well (to make them as bloody as possible it seems :P). I think its more prominent than I originally thought, but on a different day and in a different way. As far as Thanksgiving goes- I think it will be very fun to host for my in laws, and will feel like home. I think small groups of friends and family will make it a tradition for us, but that’s about it – even if the message (and food) is great. I thought we would have to eat Ham for Thanksgiving, but the turkeeys have arrived- so it must be celebrated at least a little!

  3. There is a garden store in Vellinge, near Malmö, that does a decent scary Halloween display. (http://www.vellingeblomman.se/halloween.html). We do a Thanksgiving dinner at our house, last year we had only 6 guest, but this year there will be 14. Some things are hard to find but the American Store in Malmö does carry cranberry sauce and cornbread mix. This year we will be feasting with home-grown potatoes and brussel sprouts and a turkey from Ingelsta kalkon–which is just down the road from where we live in Tomelilla.

    • cool video! That’s a great display, how festive! lol Good luck with your Thanksgiving dinner, that is a lot of guests! I am getting some supplies sent to me, like cranberry sauce, and Frenches Fried Onions for the green been casserole!

  4. No trick-or-treaters, but I noticed that more locals are having Halloween parties – there’s hope! But there’s always Facebook! Everyone’s posted pictures of their costumes and I don’t feel like I missed out at all! 🙂

    • When Friday and Saturday came I noticed a lot more Halloween in the air! Even all the pumpkins were gone by Friday and I heard of trick or treaters, but not on the same scale or going to every house. I will investigate more next year! And Facebook did help!

  5. As usual, Meg, I enjoyed your column — this time on the fun and gaiety of Halloween! Of course, here on Long Island, NY, Halloween was set aside because of the disastrous effect of Hurricane Sandy . . . no little gaily-dressed trick-or-treaters knocking at the door for their ‘treat’, or pumpkin carving, or spooky partying in homes. Instead, people have been moving about trying to find warmth (with hot showers and shampoo), hot food to eat . . . in the beginning, my son-in-law cooked up meat from their freezer before it would defrost completely and spoil (might I add, in 90mph winds?) on the grille on their deck outside, Because I live in a tiny pocket of protection from the wraths of electricity outages, (but not from the wind, rain and flying roof shingles, one of which landed in my living room window with great force! Everyone here has been harboring whichever of their family as can manage the flooding, lack of traffic lights, etc., to get to them. My daughter has made plans to soften the blow of this yearly pleasure gone wrong by telling her daughters as soon as the power is turned back on they may invite their friends to their house for a Halloween ‘treat’ . . . the two children who have been staying here with me (schools are still closed down) for some comfortable living are optimistically shooting for this w/e . . . and today we will be baking cakes and such to prepare for their party. An aside: Now we must worry about the lack of gas: stations are closed, gas is minimal . . . eeek!! These childrens’ parents may not be able to get here to pick them up due to empty gas tanks in their cars!

    • I’ve been glued to the news concerning Sandy and it wasn’t until the next day I realized that it also ruined Halloween ontop of everything else, which is very hard to explain to a kid who wants to dress up, run around, and get candy! I’m glad everyone I know is safe.

  6. A great post! I really enjoyed it, as yesterday I was quite sad not to really celebrate the day at all. I did paint my fingernails black and orange alternately, though! As far as tips go for Thanksgiving, I’ve cooked it the twice and this will be my third year. The first time I cooked for us and for another couple so there was just 4 of us. Last year I cooked for my husband’s family (they’d heard so much about Thanksgiving from media and movies etc. so they were super excited) so there were about 10 of us. The first year I didn’t know where to find pumpkin puree (looked EVERYWHERE) so I settled for making apple crisp instead of pumpkin pie. You can, however, order pumpkin puree from The English Shop (just Google it, they’re located in Gbg, Stockholm and Malmö). Or you can stop in and buy some yourself! It’s pricey, but I just find pumpkin pie essential to the Thanksgiving feast! If you are ever in Gothenburg, though, I hear that the big ICA Focus next to Liseberg sells the puree as well. I plan to make a trip there myself to see if they have it for a better price than The English Shop. Feel free to contact me if you need any more tips or ideas for Thanksgiving! I just love making it for Swedes here who have never experienced it before. To me, it’s almost the most “American” thing I can ever show them. =)

    • Thank you so much, Jessica! Very helpful – and I might take you up on that offer as it will be my first Thanksgiving solo! I have heard rumors of there being pumpkin puree in a Citygross nearby and hope to find it there! I am getting a few other items mailed to me and have a huge list of recipes and an attack plan! I’m very excited!

  7. When I was living in Sweden in 1993, I hosted a Halloween party. My friends had never done Halloween, and though they dressed up with great gusto (some of the most fun costumes ever!), it was completely new to them. Since Halloween is near the top of my favorite holidays, I couldn’t let it pass unnoticed…

  8. Pingback: Halloween in Gothenburg, Sweden | Letters from Gothenburg

  9. When I first went to Chile in 2006 Halloween was still “weird”. Cut to last year where we walked around our neighborhood to the sound of kids with plastic pumpkin baskets banging around. This year was my husband’s first year in the U.S. for Halloween and he loved seeing the little kids.

    • That’s a great turn around, becoming popular in just 4 years! I would love to show my husband an American Halloween!! I’ve found that nothing reminds me more of home than fall. When the leaves start to change and I start to think about Halloween and Thanksgiving. He has celebrating Fourth of July many times, but to me these two are more unique and special.

  10. halloween is more popular everyday! 🙂

  11. Hi there! I’ve just found your blog and I have been reading with interest. I found this post very curious. I seem to get the impression you regret the fact that Hallowe’en isn’t celebrated in Sweden as much as it is in the USA. I think you come from a fantastic country which I hope to visit one day, but America isn’t the only country in the world, I am afraid. Other foreigners aren’t surprised that Swedes don’t celebrate “their”holidays in Sweden. (I live in London and Hallowe’en while it is celebrated, isn’t that big a deal either, btw). I guess Sweden doesn’t “have” to celebrate Hallowe’en. They have their own holidays to celebrate. I don’t think any Swede would expect Americans to celebrate Midsommar for instance. Sorry for this, it’s not my intention to be mean, it is just a thought.

    • Hi! Welcome to the blog! I hope I didn’t come off the way you perceived it, I completely understand that all countries don’t celebrate American holidays, it was just one of those “differences” that I was noticing and feeling home sick over. It is celebrated, just in a different way, a way in which I wasn’t prepared for so I missed it entirely. Actually, my first Midsommar celebration was in NYC; I just feel like the world is becoming a much smaller place and the diversity of (some) countries really reflects that by including more and more holidays/traditions/tolerances of other cultures. I don’t expect anything in terms of Sweden celebrating more American holidays, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t 🙂

  12. Lennart here. 1st, I should say that I’m among those who don’t celebrate Halloween. Why? The weather has to be improved: zero-ish outside, snow, rain, cold wind. Not nice at all. The Halloween-holiday was brought here mostly by merchants, without any roots or historical goods. The main reason for me, I think, is that the concept of skeletons, spiders, grinning pumpkins and, and … oh wait a minute … on ‘Maundy Thursday’ I’d buy it! Late autumn – early winter is just at the wrong time of the year.

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