Each family has its own unique culture, and for us, my Grandparents were instrumental in shaping that culture. I always looked forward to visiting them and hearing stories about their life in Sweden before they came to the Midwest. My imagination would stretch itself to Sweden; to forests with dim light pouring through them. Sure, they would tell the same stories over and over again, but each time they would add a little flourish that made it new again. Years later I found myself telling my kids these family tales. I’d see their faces, and find myself exaggerating and adding my own twists. Eventually, I came to realize that my voice had become just as much a part of the telling as the voices of my Grandparents.
One of my favorite stories my Grandmother told me was that on Christmas she would bring wreaths and candles to the cemetery and put them on the graves of her Great Grandparents. She said that on that night the cemetery was washed in light, the flames from the candles cutting circles and shadows in the snow. This image has stayed with me throughout my life, and eventually I made it to her village. It was around this time of year, near Halloween (years after my Grandparents moved to America, Alla Helgons Dag or “All Soul’s Day” was moved to the Saturday following the 30th of October). When I got to the cemetery, I realized that although the day had changed the traditions continued. Being there was like stepping into my Grandmother’s memory, as I was surrounded by light.
In Sweden, the end of October marks the beginning of the dark nights of winter. On Alla Helgons Dag we bring lanterns, candles and wreaths to loved ones who have passed on. We bring them these things, though more than anything they are gifts to ourselves. We are reminded that the love of those we have lost continues, despite the long days without them.