Saturday, 6 November 2010
How the Swedes contemplate death
It isn't every day that you are faced with death. It is isn't every day we contemplate our own mortality. And that's probably a good thing. Imagine what life would be like if we thought about death all the time.
But today is an opportunity to do just that. Today is All Saints' Eve. Well, not technically. All Saints' Eve is actually October 31st. But in Sweden, they are practical and, since 1953, they round it up to the nearest weekend and call it a public holiday.
Legislation aside, today is the day in Sweden when people reflect over life, death and those who have passed away. It is a peaceful time. No fireworks or trick-or-treating here. It is a beautful time. No vampires or zombies populate the graveyards.
Instead, the graveyards twinkle with candle light. Relatives flock to the burial grounds and light candles and lanterns and place them by the graves of their loved ones. It is a miraculous sight to see the dark cemetries twinkling and glowing with bright white lights.
On Österlen in the rural south of Sweden, they have taken it a step further. A festival called 'Österlen Lyser' - Österlen shines - starts today. The dark villages and fields are lit up with candles, flares, lanterns and torches. People play lantern-illuminated night time boule by the edge of the sea. Choirs sing, windows glow and open bonfires celebrate this dark time of the year.
It isn't every day that you are faced with death. Full respect to Halloween, but the less commercial Swedish approach provides a more reflective vehicle for us to contemplate our own mortality.