Swedish Language Blog

Halloween’s viking past Posted by on Nov 1, 2017 in Culture

Halloween is no traditional holiday in Swedish culture, but that is not to say it doesn’t have its share of Nordic roots.

Halloween is said to have come to be when the vikings invading the British Isles came in contact with the Celts around the turn of the 9th century (800’s AD). The vikings brought with them the celebration of höstblotet, the “autumn sacrifice”.

Höstblotet was a type of New Year’s celebration on the day on which night was considered to have become longer than day in the high latitudes of the Nordics. The celebration marked the start of the half-year of darkness, bidding farewell to the half-year of light. Likewise, the vikings bid farewell to some hedniska gudar och gudinnor, Pagan gods and godesses, and welcomed others. The blot, sacrifice, itself referred to the ritual sacrifice of animals such as pigs and horses.

The Celts themselves had (and have) a very similar högtid, holiday, called Samhain, falling on the same day for the same reason, in which people came in contact with monsters and the dead and made jack-o’-lanterns out of turnips. With time, the Vikings became the ruling class in parts of the British Isles, leading to the Celts adopting and integrating parts of Viking culture into their own. This mesh of cultures is said to eventually have led to what we, today, know as Halloween.

Of course, Halloween is no longer a ritual of sacrifice as it was in the past, at least not in Sweden. Halloween in Sweden today is mainly a secular holiday and a well-appreciated excuse to have a fest, a party. In other words, it’s celebrated in very much the same way as the US, UK and other English-speaking countries. The main difference is the rarity of trick-or-treating, which only occurs in certain neighborhoods around Sweden that organize it independently.

Similarly to other cities, Stockholm is often decorated along all the main shopping streets with spöken (ghosts), pumpor (pumpkins) and the like to set the Halloween mood. If you’re in Stockholm at this time of year, you might even have the chance to go on a spökvandring (ghost tour) of the city!

Sources: Populär historia, Institutet för språk och folkminnen

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About the Author: Stephen Maconi

Stephen Maconi has been writing for the Transparent Swedish Blog since 2010. Wielding a Bachelor's Degree in Swedish and Nordic Linguistics from Uppsala University in Sweden, Stephen is an expert on Swedish language and culture.