2005-11-06

All Hallows Eve, 2005

Tomorrow is Alla Helgons Dag (All Saints Day) here in Sweden (in this country, the holiday is always observed on a Sunday).

Tonight after climbing at Kl├Ąttercentret, I began walking toward the bus stop where I catch the 509 back to Bergshamra. The day had been a rainy and foggy day, without so much as a single ray of sunlight visible all day. The evening was more of the same: cool, wet, and misty. The long black asphalt trail leading Northward toward Solna Station was half covered with yellow and brown maple leaves, and reflected light from streetlamps in its myriad rainwater puddles. A few meters down the trail, I noticed flickering candle lights far in the distance, through the trees to the East. As soon as I could, I took a right turn and followed the lights. I soon found myself in the midst of the most eerie and solemn scene I have witnessed in a long time. I had walked into Stockholm's Norra Begravningsplats (North Cemetary) on Halloween night.

About half of the graves had candles on them. In a graveyard this large (one of Stockholm's largest), this amounted to many thousands of candles. Glowing through the wet fog of the night, and accompanied by sound of rain falling on the trees and the earth, the gravelights illuminated the paving stones between the graves as I walked. Light from the flames cast faint and diffuse beams through the shrubs and bushes on the edges of the graves.

This was not a typical Halloween experience for me. The Halloweens of my youth were centered around costumes, candy, haunted houses, and general revelry. Walking among the candlelit tombstones tonight, I was reminded of the true meaning of the holiday. It's about remembering your loved ones after they are gone. There were several other people there, some lighting candles; others walking quietly through the churchyard and enjoying the night air. The nighttime is the best time to appreciate such a scene. Each candle represents someone who has not been forgotten. The sheer number of flames flickering in the fog tonight is testament to the respect Stockholmers have for their departed friends.

I continued along a small path as it spiralled up a hill to the minneslund — an area reserved for thoughtful remembrance. On this occasion, I found myself far from the graves of my forebears; so I paused for a moment in the clearing to think on those who came before me, both living and dead. Respect for ones living elders goes hand in hand with respect for the dearly departed. You may find it odd that an atheist would put stake in such an observance; it just felt right.

I do miss the costumes and the parties common at this time of year in the U.S. Even so, I think it's even nicer in a way to observe Halloween as it was meant to be observed.

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