Obviously you’ve heard of Halloween in the United States. And maybe you’ve learned about Día de Muertos in Mexico. But have you heard about All Saints Day in Poland?
All Saints Day in Poland
All Saints Day, known in Polish as Wszystkich Świętych, takes place each year on the first of November. This is a day of remembrance. Unlike Halloween and Día de Muertos, All Saints Day is a more serious and solemn holiday. On this day, Poles travel across the country to their hometowns to visit the cemeteries where their relatives rest.
People bring decorative votive candles (known in Polish as znicze) and flowers such as chrysanthemums (of all colors) to lay on the graves of their loved ones. By the end of the day, there are millions of candles glowing in cemeteries across the country that will shine for up to a week.
Though today this holiday is closely tied to the Roman Catholic Church, and is observed by Eastern Orthodox churches and occasionally Protestants, its main purpose is to serve as a day of remembrance. For this reason, the majority of Poles will visit cemeteries on this day regardless of their religious beliefs.
A few days prior to the holiday, family members will go to the graves of their relatives to clean them. This involves removing natural debris as well as polishing and sweeping up around the headstone.
On November 1st, families travel together to visit the cemetery (or a few cemeteries) to pay their respects, lay candles and flowers on graves, and share stories and memories about the person. At some cemeteries, the local priest will hold a short Mass over a loud speaker where people will stand and listen.
This time of year the weather is very unpredictable. You can expect anything from a warm sunny day to a frigid drizzle. People usually dress warm as they are prepared to spend much of the day walking outdoors.
After visiting the cemetery, people will usually gather together with family members to enjoy a meal and spend some time together. After dark, the cemeteries are lit up by candle light and it is truly a beautiful sight to observe. As this is a very important holiday, almost all shops, stores and services are closed with the exception of public transportation and emergency services. Due to the amount of people traveling, there will be heavy traffic as well as many road closures.
November 2nd is known as All Souls Day or Dzień Zaduszny or Zaduszki in Polish. This day is not an official holiday though some Catholics celebrate it by attending Mass.
History of All Saints Day in Poland
All Saints Day dates back to the 4th century. In Poland, this day was celebrated prior to becoming a Christian country, when it was replaced by Pope Gregory IV as an official religious holiday in the year 835. The original pagan holiday was called Dziady meaning Forefathers. It was believed that during this time of the year, the souls of forefathers would return to earth to visit their family members.
This day was celebrated in many ways. People would bake small loaves of bread called powałki or heretyczki that they would bring to the gravesites in order to feed the souls. People would light fires along the roads and at their homes to help warm and guide the souls to the house. People were expected to be on their best behavior on this day as to not be disrespectful to the visiting souls.
Tips For Travelers
- The cemeteries are open to the public on All Saints Days so you are welcome to visit. Remember to be respectful. It’s a nice idea to bring a candle or flowers to leave on a grave that may have been forgotten.
- As this is a very important holiday, almost all shops, stores and services are closed with the exception of transportation and emergency services.
- Due to the amount of people traveling, there will be heavy traffic as well as many road closures.
Here are a few of the well known cemeteries open for visitors in Poland:
Cmentarz Powązkowski, Warsaw
This is one of the oldest cemeteries in the city. Established in 1790, it contains the graves of many important people along the Avenue of the Distinguished (Aleja Zasłużonych). It is estimated there are over one million people buried here.
Cmentarz Zasłużonych na Pęksowym Brzyzku, Zakopane
This cemetery is located behind an old wooden church in Zakopane. Unlike traditional burial sites in Poland, these memorials are carved from rock and metal, or built in the shape of tall wooden sculptures. They are works of art that make you feel as if you've wandered into a fairytale.
Cmentarz Żydowski, Łódź
It was once the largest Jewish cemetery in Europe. It was established in 1892 and contains mass graves from the Holocaust.
Cmentarz Rakowicki, Kraków
It is the largest and most important cemetery in Kraków. Many notable people are buried here including the parents of Pope John Paul II.
Cmentarz Centralny, Szczecin
This is the largest cemetery in Poland and the third largest in all of Europe.
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