Here in America and in most of Canada, we have funeral traditions that have stood the test of time for decades, even centuries.
But our traditions are vastly different from those in other countries and cultures.
This article looks at Swedish funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about Italian funeral traditions and Samoan funeral traditions, among others.
Note, these traditions may vary depending on the individual and their own beliefs.
Religion in Sweden
Evangelical Lutheran Christianity is the most popular religion in Sweden. According to the 2010 statistics from Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures Project, 67.2% of Sweden’s population is Christian; 27% is unaffiliated; 4.6% is Muslim; and an even smaller percentage identify with either Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, folk religions, or other religions.
The Church of Sweden, the largest Christian church in Sweden, has more than 6.2 million members. Swedish Christian funeral services are similar to Christian funeral services here in the United States, but they have their own unique traditions, as well.
The Funeral Service
Swedish Christians typically wait between one and three weeks before having the funeral service. This is a longer time to wait compared to the other Scandinavian countries, Norway and Denmark, who only wait around eight days before having a service.
Swedish Christian funeral services are traditionally a small gathering of family and close friends of the deceased. Funeral attendees bring flowers to place on the casket in remembrance of their loved one. Close family members wear white ties and sing songs during the service to express feelings of grief and love.
Joseph Marsaglia, dean and chief operating officer of the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science, published an article called “Death and Ceremony in Scandinavia” in the March 2017 issue of The Director . According to the article, Scandinavian funerals are simpler than funerals in the United States.
They don’t typically practice embalming and they only view the deceased for a short period of time. If being buried, wooden caskets are the preferred choice, and the churches usually hold funerals during the week, so weddings and christenings can be done during the weekend.
Food and grieving is a funeral tradition shared among many different cultures. During the mid-19th century in Sweden, funeral candies were a popular funeral favor. The candies were given to funeral attendees along with wine before the funeral service began. Sometimes verses, prayers, or poems were attached to the candies.
The candies were hard sugar candies in the form of corpses, which were wrapped in black crepe paper with fringes on the sides. The length of the fringes depicted the age of the deceased; if they were short and wide, the deceased was younger, and if they were long and thin, the deceased was older.