People all around the world are about to celebrate Halloween. Although some of the younger generation in Poland (especially parents of small children) have adopted this custom and you can meet children trick-or-treating on the streets of the biggest Polish cities, Halloween is generally frowned upon by many Poles and especially by the Polish Church. The cheery atmosphere stands in opposition to our traditional celebrations of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day on the 1st and 2nd of November, which are full of contemplation.
Poland is a strongly Catholic country and All Saints’ Day is one of the most important holidays. It is dedicated to prayers and paying tribute to the deceased. It was even recognized by the communist authorities of the Polish People’s Republic, although they renamed it to the Day of the Deceased. It is a bank holiday, so that everyone can visit the graves of their family, friends and national heroes.
Traffic on the 1st of November is very dense and in big cities special bus lines are launched that take people to cemeteries. Many Poles travel very far, so it is common to take an extra day off, especially if All Saints’ Day falls on a Tuesday or a Thursday, which makes it easy to get an extended holiday by taking just one day off.
People take care of the graves of their families, clean them meticulously and then lay flowers, wreaths and light candle lanterns, which are supposed to help the souls. The flower that is most commonly associated with All Saints’ Day in Poland is the chrysanthemum. Entire families meet on the graveyards, people often have an opportunity to meet their far relatives.
It is worth noting that the Polish cemeteries are unlike those in many other countries. Graves and tombs are big and no two graves are the same. You can find individual graves and family graves. They are most often made of stone, such as granite, sandstone or marble. Some are completely covered, some have soil and planted flowers. Most have crosses, either standing or carved in the stone.
The atmosphere on Polish cemeteries on the 1st and 2nd of November is incredible, especially after dark. They are lit with the light of flickering candles and you probably won’t find a grave without at least one lantern. Many graves are taken care of on a daily basis, but on All Saints’ Day even those that are forgotten have flowers and lights put there by strangers passing by.
On All Saints' Day you can buy candle lanterns and flowers at the entrance of the cemeteries. But you'll also find special delicacies, like little bagels and puffed rice with honey. In the capital city you can get Pańska Skórka (Lord's Crust), a candy eaten only on All Saints' Day in the area of Warsaw. The traditional candy is pink and white, but there are also other flavors, like apple, banana or cherry.