Tradition and origin of All Saints' Day and Halloween is the same but these two days are so different in their atmosphere! Although All Saints' Day is celebrated among catholic all around the world this celebration is Poland has especially solemn manner.
All Saints' Day in Poland is a holiday for everybody except of transportation and emergency services. In spite of its religious roots it was also observed during communistic times as a Day of Deceased. The traffic on the roads and streets is very high since almost everybody had to commute to reach
the family's graves.
Poles take flowers (especially fall flowers like chrysanthemum, wreaths, candles and votive lights into the cemeteries where graves of family, friends or national heroes are. It is worth to mention that the cemeteries in Poland are different than in any country I
saw. Graves and tombs are big and very individualized. There is usually a guard standing at military graves in that day. You don't see two graves, which looks the same except maybe military graves. They are either individual (for one person) or family vaults. They are made of rocks (granite, marble, sandstone etc.) some are completely covered with stone some have a soil with some planted flowers. They differ in their richness. Some of them are taken care on the daily basis. Many older women, mainly widows, visit cemeteries almost every day. Since Poland is a catholic country almost every grave has a cross standing or carved in stone.
But even the most forgotten graves are full of lights and candles in that day. It is believed that praying and putting candles on these graves can help their souls.
The atmosphere of All Saints' Day is unique. In the evening cemeteries are decorated in glowing and flickering colorful lights of countless candles. Everybody is there to celebrate, to pray, to participate in church services.
Usually the weather cooperates in this day (1 November). Usually it is a beautiful sunny but cold weather with the few last rustling in a wind leaves on the trees and on the ground. Since this day is in late autumn it reminds us that everybody's existence is temporary and everybody eventually will be gone just like the leaves on the trees. Sometimes (but not that often) this day is gloomy and dark as like it would like to reflect the sadness of death. But it was always a good day for me. It was a time when we were driving with the rest of my family to the old graves of my ancestors, the only day during a year. We did not think about the problems of a daily life overwhelmed by a sentiment of the past memories hidden normally during the everyday busy life.
This day is also celebrated as a Memorial Day for these who died in the wars – especially WW II. The guards in uniforms or scouts are present by vaults of the soldiers.
For me the All Saints Day is a time for reflection upon my life, especially the passing year. It is a time of being close to my family members and also to remember these who are gone. The nature helps, bare trees and fallen, grey leaves seem to call us: "slow down, calm down, relax, sit, life is too short to worry about all the temporary worries".
written by Jagoda Urban-Klaehn, October 26, 2003
Originally published on the Polish Culture Website