Prior to discovering the Bonderman Fellowship, my boyfriend Olav and I had booked a trip through Scandinavia including Norway, Sweden and Iceland. This came as a bit of unfortunate timing, since I would miss the most famous of death celebrations, Dia de los Muertos in Mexico.
Disappointing as this was, I was excited to spend Halloween in Sweden. Olav’s cousin and her husband are living in Sweden for the next two years while she works on her master’s degree. Knowing someone living in the country got us invited to a Halloween house party. We went to an American thrift store, picked out costumes, and made headbands to complete our lady bug and cat.
The party was the night before Halloween. In the US, we usually see people dressed in costumes even weeks before. As we looked around in the train station at hundreds of people, we started to realize not a single other person was dressed up. Oh well, we thought. We were invited to a Halloween party so surely people will be dressed up there. They weren’t. Puzzled as we were, we carried on, and talked to Swedes about death metal, beer and cheese.
We also found out that October 31 is a more important holiday in Sweden that Halloween is actually based off of. All Saint’s Day is a time to remember those who have passed on. A Catholic holiday, also known as All Hollow’s Eve, it can be celebrated in many places, but like other holidays in the United States we have lost the true meaning to commercialization.
In Sweden on this day, thousands of people flock to the graves of their loved ones. Though this trip is not technically part of my fellowship, Olav and I could not pass up the opportunity to visit one of Stockholm’s largest cemeteries, Skogskyrkogarden.
The sun had just set, and hundreds of tiny flames were strewn across acres of fields. Families gathered and lit candles both by the headstones, and at long tables. I stared in awe at both the beauty, and the fire hazard that would surely have prevented this event from taking place at home.
This celebration acts as one reminder of how precious life is. Gone does not mean forgotten. Each of us has a lasting impact on this world, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem. Our time here is finite, but I really do believe each person is important and should be remembered long after the soul leaves the body. Our flames burn on through our legacy; our work, our families, our friends, our communities. My hope is to leave behind enough to keep my candle lit for years to come.