In the northern hemisphere, October 31st was the day for recognizing the coming of winter: at midnight, all the evil spirits and beings ran away to the depths of the earth, to escape the cold. During the hours leading up to midnight, much mischief was played on people to make up for the forthcoming cold months…
Today, October 31st is the eve of ‘All Hallows Day’ or ‘All Saints Day’: let’s see what happens in the Nordic countries.
Halloween is not officially celebrated in Iceland, but Icelanders are changing local traditions and trying to make Halloween part of their culture: Icelandic kids love dressing as scary figures, and the sweets that go along with it. Parents and the marketplace are listening to the kids, so now you can find pumpkins and scary decorations in most grocery stores come late October. Teens and adults are starting to dress up as well, hitting Halloween parties, often with an Icelandic twist: they are called Hallóvín, a word play literally meaning “Hello wine”!
Before the late ‘90s, Halloween was virtually unknown in Norway, so much so that when the cartoon classic “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” was translated into Norwegian, the Great Pumpkin became the ‘Old Man of Olsok’. Halloween in Norway is a lot similar to Halloween in the States, even if instead of saying “trick or treat” when the door is answered, Norwegian kids say “knask eller knep” or “digg eller deng” (both meaning roughly “trick or treat”). The traditional Norwegian children’s game ‘lommelykt i høstmørket’ has a lot in common with Halloween: it is a combination of hide-and-seek and a treasure-hunt played with flashlights in the darkness of fall nights. Add costumes and goodies on the evening of All Saint’s Day and there you have it! Norwegian kids learned about Halloween also by reading Donald Duck & Co., the country’s most popular comic books, thanks to the ‘jack-o-lanterns’ carved by Donald’s nephews (and their practice of Trick-or-Treat). Just like Christmas Trees, Halloween came to Norway via Sweden, where children had celebrated it since the mid 1990s.
In Sweden, Halloween is known as “Alla Helgons Dag” and is celebrated from October 31 until November 6: as with many other holidays, “Alla Helgons Dag” has an eve which is either celebrated or becomes a shortened working day.
Halloween begins at schools’ autumn break and is a welcome distraction as the days become darker. Halloween has been celebrated in Sweden since the 1990s, and it established rapidly because people saw the need: by the time of Halloween, Sweden is shrouded in darkness, while long working weeks stretch away endlessly because there are no public holidays or extended weekends in the calendar between the summer holiday and All Saints’ Day. Halloween is mainly celebrated by children and teenagers: they go to fancy parties wearing costumes and ghost parties, light lanterns and walk and run through the streets to scare the neighborhood. Many pubs and restaurants have Halloween parties and decorate their premises with scary items you see in the United States. The celebration of Halloween has led to an upswing in pumpkins growing on the island of Öland in the southern Baltic Sea, home to the giant gourds.
In Denmark, All Saints’ Day is celebrated on the first Sunday in November. In recent years, it has become common in many churches to commemorate those dead during the year on the day with the tradition of placing candles on the graves on All Saints’ Eve. On Halloween children dress up as ghosts and go around ringing door bells as on ‘Shrovetide’, a children’s festival usually on Quinquagesima Sunday for which they dress up and go around with their tins trying to collect money by singing to those who open the door. On Halloween, when the door is opened, they say ‘trick or treat’ (in English), and if they are not given a cookie or money, they make trouble, just like on Shrovetide.
In Finland, Halloween is more for young people and an excuse to throw a party and hang out with friends: it is not a tradition, and the kids don’t go door to door asking for goodies. What is actually celebrated these days in Finland is ‘All Saints Day’ on the first Saturday after the 30th of October: families go to the cemetery to visit and honor relatives by lighting candles which can make the view of the entire cemetery a spectacular and solemn sight. During the days before All Saints Day, the shops in Finland are full of candles, displayed on special shelves.