10 April, 2018

Sweden vs. the US: Halloween Celebration

Halloween is a relatively new holiday in Sweden (as it is in most of Europe) and adoption of the American tradition has been interesting to watch as an American immigrant living in Sweden. So, trick or treat?

Created with Lisa Ferland

Copyrights: Lisa Ferland

When we moved to Sweden from the US in 2012, not many people celebrated Halloween. Fellow American moms advised me to host my own Halloween parties and create a faux trick-or-treat experience by giving the neighbors candy to hand out when my kids came by at 3 pm that day.

Over the past few years, more Swedish kids are shouting, “Bus eller godis!” and stores are decked out in skeletons, spiderwebs, and fake blood packets. What we’re seeing take shape in Sweden is a scarier, more traditional Halloween than most American families celebrate in the US.

Pulling from classic horror films, Halloween in Sweden often means Freddy Krueger, chainsaws, and screams whereas, at Halloween parties in the US, you see princesses, Spiderman, and satirical versions of political figures.Here are some other ways in which celebrating Halloween in Sweden differs from what we experienced in the US.

The Costumes

Halloween costumes in Sweden tend to be the classic representations of monsters compared to the often ironic and interpretive costumes one sees in the US. 

Last Halloween, I saw pictures of my American friends’ kids dressed up like the house from the Wizard of Oz complete with the witch’s legs sticking out from underneath.

Looking out my front window, I saw Swedish kids dressed as witches, ghosts, and vampires. Trick-or-treating in Sweden is like stepping back in time to when Halloween was all about the mystery and horror of the dark October night. 

Perhaps, after a few decades of celebrating Halloween, more Swedes will tire of the traditional costumes and use the holiday as an excuse to make a statement on current affairs, but for now, the day is simple and a bit retro.

The Candy

Candy in Sweden is the pick it yourself type from big bins in the grocery store and is often not wrapped or packaged in bulk. The Halloween Day-specific candy market just isn’t that big in Sweden (yet). 

As a result, our kids get a bunch of loose, unwrapped candy, similar to what they eat every Saturday as part of lordagsgodis (Saturday candy). Since we limit the amount of candy they eat every Saturday, Halloween is seen as a HUGE treat because we release the limit on the amount they can eat. (I know, I know, we are super generous parents.)

What’s funny is that since our kids are so used to eating only 5-7 pieces of candy, the amount of candy they get on Halloween totally overwhelms them and they freak out giggling in excitement as they dump their “treasures” onto the table.

I look at their “candy haul” and laugh to myself because I know that when I was their age, we’d dump out pillowcases full of more candy than we could ever handle. 

What I love is passing on the tradition of examining and trading candies with their friends. We used to do this on our living room floor in upstate New York, USA when I was a kid and I loved making deals with my brother, “I’ll trade you two Kit Kat bars for your supersized Snickers bar.”

My kids get to have that same experience but on a slightly smaller scale as they are trading jelly beans and red Ferraris instead of Snickers and Kit Kats. 

The Parties

Since Halloween is a new holiday in Sweden, only the most die-hard Halloween enthusiasts host holiday parties. That means that Swedish Halloween parties often far exceed your expectations. 

I’m constantly blown away by the inventiveness of my friends and the lengths to which they’ll go to make the event super special and fun for both the kids and adults.

My Australian friend hosts one of the best parties I’ve ever been to and even created a “mad scientist lab” with dry ice, black lights, and other reagents and laboratory equipment. The decorations are incredibly detailed was well-thought out.

Another Halloween party we attended featured a “spooky forest walk” where parents dressed in costumes, hid behind trees, and jumped out to scare the kids as they walked along the path. The procession ended with a witch (our neighbor or so I thought) handing out candy bags from her bubbling and smoking cauldron.

Celebrating Halloween in Sweden

Without much to do in late October, the Halloween tradition fits nicely in most Swedish neighborhoods and I believe we’ll see more and more kids trick-or-treating in the coming years. 

Celebrating it in Sweden is like taking a step back in time to a simpler age. The kids are happy with a small bag of candy (very lagom), houses aren’t being egged or covered in toilet paper, and the classic costumes. While “bus eller godis!” has replaced, “Trick or treat!” Halloween in Sweden doesn’t look that different from Halloween in the US and I’m glad that my family gets to continue the fun tradition every fall.

Lisa Ferland is a writer and mother to a ninja warrior and a dancing firefly. Her first children’s book, When the Clock Strikes on Halloween, introduces kids to the concept of telling time in rhyme with a Halloween theme. Pre-order the book at

Psst… You want to read our interview with Lisa? Click here.

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