Thoughts on All Saints Day 2012

In life, you always come to crossroads, where one has to make choices.
Choices in life that sometimes implies separation from the people they have come to love. Choices that sometimes implies leaving something or someone that you will miss. Today on Tzedaqyal, some thoughts on All Saints Day from a daily news article. At the end, a link to Light A Candle.

Today’s Quote
To meet and to part is the course of life,
to part and again meet is a song of hope.
(Swedish tune)

All Saints Day, cemetery in Karesuando, Lapland, northern Sweden.


At a funeral, a priest speaks an average of seven minutes in favor for the deceased person. Who are you thinking of during your grandfather’s funeral? The issue is very much relevant. At most funerals (last year, 81 percent of all Swedish funerals was performed by Church of Sweden) we gather to listen to the Christian message. That is, the funeral is intended as a last tribute to remember our grandfather, but especially, we devote it to listen to the story of Jesus and a message of salvation.

Funeral ceremonies have an important role in bringing the families ahead of the grief process. But this task has indeed a minor role in most Swedish ceremonies today. We listen to Christian songs, instead of such music that Grandpa’ used to listen to. We listen to the words of the Bible, instead of anecdotes about grandfather’s childhood, his milestones in life and his gifts. It should be obvious that the dead person is the one who will also dominate his own funeral ceremony. A funeral is the stock of the grandfather’s life, that is when we remember, reconcile and show gratitude for the time we had together.

This weekend is All Saints Day. It has the least of demands full of feasts. We gather for reflection and light candles. It is no longer the memory of the Christian saints that are in focus. “All Saints” have a new meaning. Instead, it is in the memory of our own friends and family members, to spare a thought for those who have meant something to you and me.

That is when I return to the question: “Who are you thinking of during your grandfather’s funeral?” For some, it may be strange that the day we should spend just for our grandfather, we spend listening to hymns and Bible readings. Could not the Christian message belong to all other days of the year? Every day we are able to devote ourselves to prayer and hymns. And every Sunday we can go on our services. Please do it! But why do we devote ourselves to ecclesiasticism on our grandfather’s funeral?

Vicar Jan-Olof Aggedal has written a dissertation in which he studied the funeral oration of 432 priests and concluded that a priest is talking an average of seven minutes about the dead person. That is, by his own funeral, the deceased only gets seven minutes. Church of Sweden also requires that this personal part is to be intertwined with the Christian message [regardless of whether the dead person was a believer or not.]

Why is a person’s life not worth more than that? Why is it not obvious that it is the death and his/her related parties which are the main characters of the funeral?

That is why All Saints weekend is such an important task. Many feel the need to come together to think about the people who meant something to us. “All Saints Day” is in any way assumed the role of a moment of reflection.

In the past, “lit de parade” was used, it means that the dead person lay in her bed in the home so that families would gather around the dead, both to reflection and to gain time to realize that she is no longer living. But this operation has almost completely disappeared in today’s Sweden. Death has been swept away and the ecclesiastical rituals dominate. And this in one of the world’s most secular countries. Therefore, take advantage of the forthcoming All Saints Day, assemble, light a candle and take a moment to think about all those who have stood near you.
[Sara Pellving, officiant for non-denominational funerals, article in Svenska Dagbladet November 2, 2012.]

Sources: “Oration funebre between religious interpretation and interpretation of life – a pastoral theological study” by Jan-Olof Aggedal, Arcus Förlag, Lund 2003, and

The question that Sara Pellving addresses in the article, regarding the need to gather around and remember the deceased, is to let people get some more space, this is above all a symptom of our lifestyle today. Many of us live far away from our families, and we wish sometimes that we would be able to take greater responsibility for them when they become old. Sometimes feelings of guilt raises but also concern for our own old age: will someone take care of us when we get older, or will we be sitting there all alone? The religious language in funeral rituals are considered taking up too much space, while the memory of the dead person is not extended during the memorial service, and is therefore lost.


In Sweden, where the Church of Sweden for centuries, has had a powerful role in the governance of many important social functions, the issue of burial rituals have become a major concern for the common man.

It can easily be summed up with this: a grieving man who follows a relative to her rest, never wanted to have a religious sermon in the first place. The purpose of a Memorial Service, is to remember the dead, highlightning her life, setbacks and successes, not to see her as lost for ever, which often is the essence of the theological reasoning in many of these ceremonies. Many ceremonies are also structured as church services, where the priest or pastor preach a message of salvation. A nice idea, but it is not relevant in this context, of following reasons;

Churches and denominations are available every day, but our families, relatives and friends, are not always with us. That is why it is so important that we can design a ceremony, concentrated on the dead person and her personality, where we receive good memories of the dead and feel that we have something valuable to take with us from the ceremony.

The dead person was perhaps not even a believer to begin with. I have thought about the words of officiants over the years, when they have spoken at various funerals where I was present.
I have myself followed the final rest of my grandfather and grandmother, father and mother, a brother, some cousins, classmates and childhood friends.
After the funeral ceremony, it is very common that participants get a folder with the text that the officiant or the priest has been reading from in the ceremony, including Biblical scriptures and hymns. The vast majority of these transcripts from the ceremonies, contained the same type of explanations, layout and the same Biblical references. They looked as if they had been copied from older copies.

It can certainly be good with a word of G-d, but if this has nothing to do with the dead man, people in grief will turn restless and uncomfortable in the pews. I have often got a much larger loneliness and longing for a dead relative AFTER the funeral, that is because that I so badly wanted to get a different memory for the dead friend or relative. That is how my people live and have always lived, we are born and living in the northern mountain regions of Sweden. We are not so driven by formulas, comme-il-faut rules and rituals, we are more committed to people we have in our neighborhood, where we are there for each other, always ready to give a helping hand, always a smile or kind gesture. Everyone needs somebody.

The freedom to design the ceremony for our own wishes, is often connected with the Church’s rules and how far they can go, but then there is the possibility of a non-religious funeral ceremony, where we can choose performance of the ceremony, texts, music and whether the dead is to be buried or cremated. The last option is very common here. I remember when I was in my early teens, a famous artist in my village, wished to have his ashes scattered in the water around the beautiful island, where he lived with his family. This possibility exists. The same applies to people of other faiths, religions and ethnicity; Jews, Muslims and Roma. They even have their own cemeteries.


Everyone who is entered in the Swedish population registry pays a mandatory burial fee through their taxes. This applies regardless of the person’s religious convictions and is a charge meant to cover some of the costs that arise when someone dies, and that has of course nothing to to with the spiritual content and performance of a sermon.

The burial fee covers the following expenses: a burial plot for 25 years, burial and/or cremation, certain transports of the coffin, premises for safekeeping and viewing of remains, premises for a funeral ceremony with no religious symbols.
These services must be provided at no charge, even in a parish other than the parish where someone is registered.
The services for which the estate of the deceased person must pay include: a coffin, dressing of the deceased person, decorations and flowers, obituary notices, transportation of the coffin to the viewing room (premises for safekeeping and viewing), funeral ceremony, pallbearers, memorial service, headstone and grave maintenance.


All Saints Day is the only fully Catholic weekend we have left in our calendar since Sweden became Protestant. The origin of the name goes way back. Previously, various saints were celebrated during different days of the year. But there was a day when we remembered the minor saints who did not have their own day, and that day was named “All other Saints Day.” The word “others” later disappeared. Around the 800s, the days of the Western Church (Roman Catholic Church) seemed to have been linked to November 1. In the Eastern Church (Orthodox Church) it is celebrated on the first Sunday after Pentecost.

During the Reformation in the 1500s, the Protestant church came to make up with the doctrine that in various ways spoke about the saints. They wanted to point out that after a person’s death, no one can communicate with that persons spirit, asking her for help in a situation or even less influence her eternal destination. All Saints Day has since the Reformation, therefore, have increasingly become a day where we instead honor the memory of our dead relatives and friends, and thus remind ourselves of our own mortality. The custom of putting candles on the graves of the dead comes from Italy and was established in Sweden in the 1940s. And it has in recent decades become a common and a loved tradition in Sweden.

In the Catholic Church, which still recognizes the saints on All Saints’ Day, observed the deceased instead of November 2 as when the day “All Dead Soul’s Day” occurs. In Catholic churches a Requiem-Mass is celebrated.

Requiem means rest. The name comes from the opening words of the mass that reads “Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine,” Grant them eternal rest, O Lord. In the mass, they are praying for their deceased relatives and friends in the hope and belief that they can influence their situation in purgatory, awaiting purification for eternity.


The tradition of Halloween (short for All Hallows Eve, after that All Saints Eve) originates from Ireland but was transferred to the United States in the mid 1800s and commercialized in the early 1900s. Since the 1950s, it is one of the major U.S. holidays. Halloween always falls on October 31. The tradition got some foothold in Sweden in the 1990s, but the celebration seems to have subsided, well, it goes up and down with the trend. In Sweden, Hallowen is celebrated in schoools among others, usually the Friday before All Saints’ Day and has of course no religious overtones.

There are some interesting things about Halloween and its similarity to the Swedish Easter celebration. Halloween is very much similar to our celebration of Easter, “påsk.” The belief in witches travelling to Blåkulla (Blue hill) on Maundy Thursday, “originally for a sabbath with the Devil” is honoured by children dressing up as “påskkärring,” witches, knocking the doors in the neighbourhoods requesting treats, very much like the trick or treat during Halloween! And, yes, the Swedish Passover could be really scary!

Light an interactive Candle here for someone you love:

Light A Candle has been on the Internet since 2000.

© 2012 Jonathan Axelsson
אתר הבית של יונתן
Twitter @tzedaqyal


About Meadow of Tzedaqyal

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience” (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, 1881-1955)
This entry was posted in history, spirituality, tradition. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s