The 31st October for many Poles is the Halloween, the parties, the fun and the fuss…
But November the First is a truly magic day.
The majority of us, Poles, if not all, celebrate the 1st of November as All Saints’ Day and the following day, the All Souls’ Day.
Being a Catholic country, All Saints’ Day is a religious holiday and has always been a public holiday, even in the communist days. A Holiday of the Dead is the Polish name.
What do we do? We go to visit the graves of our family and friends. Flowers are laid, candles or rather vigil lights burnt. Many attend special masses on this and following day, the All Souls’ Day.
Preparations usually start the week before. Most of cemeteries in Poland look like parks, the older the place, the finer and bigger the trees are. There comes the time when the leaves and other dirt is cleared away and the stone plates of graves washed. Two weeks prior to this holiday, the shops arrange for space to put various vigil candles on sale, but mostly these are bought near cemeteries together with plants and little wraths which are put on the graves.
As it is the first day of November, the weather may vary: from nice warm days (like this year) to heavy rain or snow. But believe me, no matter how bad the weather is, you will see crowds of people, families, young and old, marching quietly along the isles to get to the final resting place of their close and loved ones. This day also, the family reunions are popular, people sometimes travel long distances not only to light candles and remember their dead at the graves but to see and spend time with relatives. It is common that dinners for the visitors are prepared and it is time to talk and tell stories about the departed loved ones.
If the weather permits, it is best to visit the graves when it gets dark (after 4 pm).
The smell of burning candles and illumination, the silent crowds, the feeling of being together in this march to our dead…well, that’s Polish tradition.
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