Halloween in Scandinavia

October 31st is the eve of All Hallows Day (or All Saints Day). Prior to being significant to Christians, October 31st was the day for recognizing the coming of winter in the northern hemisphere. It was believed that all the evil spirits, goblins and imps ran away to the depths of the earth at midnight on Oct. 31 to escape the cold. (In the United States rather than the depths of earth we run to Florida and Arizona.) Much mischief was played by these evil spirits, goblins and imps on people for the hours leading up to midnight to make up for the cold months when they will be in hiding.


Store shelves in Norway ready for Halloween (Photo: Heidi Håvan Grosch)

Halloween was virtually unknown in Norway before the late ‘90s. When the cartoon classic “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” was translated into Norwegian, the Great Pumpkin became the Old Man of Olsok. It’s not completely clear how the holiday started to catch on in Norway. Whatever the origins, Halloween in Norway is a lot like Halloween in the States, even if some of the finer points have gotten lost in the translation.

Instead of saying “trick or treat” in English when the door is answered, Norwegian kids say “knask eller knep” or “digg eller deng” which both mean about the same thing as the English phrase.

The traditional Norwegian children’s game of 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. So one contemporary explanation of Halloween in Norway is that “it’s lommelykt i høstmørket with the addition of costumes and goodies, practiced in the evening of All Saint’s Day.”

Though Halloween is relatively new in Norway, the kids of Norway learned about it by reading Donald Duck & Co. — the country’s most popular comic books. Norwegian children learned of the jack-o-lanterns carved by Donald’s nephews and of the practice of Trick-or-Treat, translated to Knask eller knep in Norwegian.

Like Christmas Trees, Halloween came to Norway via Sweden, where children had celebrated it since the mid 1990s.


One of the pumpkins carved by pre-school kids in Arvika (local.se)

In Sweden, Halloween is celebrated from October 31 until November 6 and is known as “Alla Helgons Dag.” 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 rapidly was established here because people saw the need. By the time of Halloween, Sweden is shrouded in darkness 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. They 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. Halloween has come to stay in Sweden.

The celebration of Halloween has led to an upswing in pumpkin growing on the island of Öland in the southern Baltic Sea, where the giant gourds are now readily available.


This American holiday isn’t officially celebrated in Iceland, but Icelanders are changing local traditions and trying to make Halloween part of their culture. Icelandic kids love dressing up as a scary figures, and they don’t mind the sweets that go along with it. Parents and the marketplace are listening to the kids, as usually, so now you can find pumpkins and scary decorations in most grocery stores in Iceland come late October – this was not the tradition a few years ago. But it’s not just the kids who are fascinated by this American tradition. Teens and adults are starting to dress up as well and going to Halloween parties is popular, often with an Icelandic twist. They are called Hallóvín, a word play literally meaning “Hello wine”!


Halloween in Tivoli Gardens

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 the evening before on All Saints’ Eve. The American holiday of Halloween where the children dress up as ghosts and go around ringing door bells like at Shrovetide. (Shrovetide is a children’s festival, they dress up – usually on Quinquagesima Sunday – and go around with their collection tins which they try to get filled with money. They are given money when they have rung the bell and sing to those who open the door.) When the door is opened, they say ‘trick or treat’ (in English). If they are not given a cookie or money, they make trouble – like at Shrovetide. (You can see more of the pumpkins in Tivoli Gardens here.)


Candles in Finland cemetery

Halloween in Finland is more for young people and an excuse as good as any other to throw a small party and hang out with friends. It isn’t a tradition and the kids don’t go door to door asking for goodies like they do on Shrovetide. What is actually celebrated these days in Finland is All Saints day.

All Saints day in Finland is celebrated the first Saturday after the 30th of October, and is a day to go to the cemetery with the whole family, to visit and honor relatives by lighting candles, and see how other families have done the same. These candles can make the view of the entire cemetery a spectacular and solemn sight.

The days before the shops in Finland are full of candles, and there is usually special shelves for them.



Blog written by Mary Hirsch