Light in the darkness
We Swedes are said to be the people in the world who light the most candles, and it's probably not just thanks to IKEA and other vendors. As Nordics who are so influenced by living where the dark season is so long, we need the light from candles. Although we now have electricity to light up our homes and communities and cities, we still light a lot of candles. In the past, we made them in our homes, making use of old candle stubs; and now it is just so easy to get ahold of candles, even abroad.

Why do we do it?

There are certainly a lot of different answers to that question. I think that candles first and foremost light up in a soft way. It develops comfort, it feels cozy and snug when the candles burn. But candles are also very important, even almost necessary at our feasts and holidays.

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We are in the time of the year when All Saints Day (Allhelgonadagen) and Halloween are celebrated. Back home in Sweden, All Saints has become the third largest church holiday of the year after Christmas and Easter. Hundreds of thousands of people seek out our cemeteries across the country on Friday or Saturday night and decorate the graves with fir twigs and heather and light candles and votives.

People wish to honor family members who have died. People want to be there, close, remember and mourn, but also light candles. I think the candle lighting is a kind of protest action, when we light candles in the darkness. We all know the power of light: It only takes a spark from a match to get a completely dark room to become enlightened.

The Swedish Church Abroad has this year adopted three key values that should characterize all foreign parishes throughout the world and its activities. These core values are: trust, transparency and hope.

For me, all the bright lights of our cemeteries during the All Saints weekend are an expression of hope. Likewise, when we light the candles in our candelabra at the church service of All Saints' Day for each of our parishioners who died in the past year, we express hope.

Hope is fundamental. You used to say: "Where there’s life, there is hope." Imagine if we would turn the words around: "Where there’s hope, there is life"?

It is hope that makes us see the points of light, the possibilities!
It is hope that makes us imagine the life, when we face darkness and adversity in life of various kinds.
It is also the hope we must cling to when death visits us. The hope of the victory of life over death! As Christians, we have every reason to hope, because Jesus conquered death through the resurrection of life, so we may all rise when our life on earth is over.

What if you and I could rest safely with that thought, now that we are in the dark season, as we light our candles: It is the light that carries us, it is the hope that carries us!

Staffan Eklund
Staffan Eklund is the pastor at the Church of Sweden/Svenska Kyrkan in Los Angeles and San Francisco who occasionally writes for Nordstjernan.