Everyone that travels to Poland on the 1st of November may be surprised and intrigued by Polish traditions of celebrating All Saints’ Day. It is also an official bank holiday in Poland and every year causes transportation challenges for all those who want to move around the country. Check this article to learn what happens in Poland on every 1st of November and how important All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days are for the Poles.
According to historians, the celebration of All Saints dates back to ancient times, when all Christian martyrs were remembered on the chosen day. It is believed that as early as in the 4th century such a commemoration was introduced in many churches in the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire. All Saints' Day has been officially celebrated in the Catholic Church since the 9th century. It was established by Pope Gregory IV on November 1 - in 837. On All Saints' Day, the Church remembers not only officially recognized saints, i.e. beatified and canonized saints, but also all faithful deceased whose lives were marked by holiness. The day after All Saints’ Day, the day of remembrance of the dead is celebrated - All Souls' Day. For Christians, it is a day of prayer for all those who have departed from this world but are in purgatory and need our prayers to be saved. All Souls' Day was initiated in Christianity by St. Odilon, Abbot of the Benedictines of Cluny, France. This day was to be a counterbalance to pagan rituals honouring the dead. In 998, Odilon ordered prayers for the souls of the dead, designating the first day after All Saints' Day, which is the 2nd of November. On that day also many Poles visit cemeteries but definitely not as many as the day before. The 1st of November was also a day off work in the times of the Communist People's Republic of Poland, but officially attempts were made to make it secular and it was called All Deads' Day or the Day of the Dead.
All Saints' Day, falling on November 1, is one of the most important Catholic holidays. It is a unique period of reflection and thoughtfulness. On the 1st of November millions of Poles come to cemeteries to light special candles, leave flowers and pray for the dead - their relatives and friends. It is also a holiday celebrated by some other denominations, as well as a custom practiced by non-denominational and non-believers, intended to be an expression of remembrance and devotion and respect to the deceased. It is also a day of family meetings and reunions for the Poles. At this time, people also remember about those whose graves are forgotten by others on a daily basis. At the same time, they recall outstanding Poles who made a significant contribution to the development of the country's culture and heritage, and who deceased recently. People remember then also about outstanding writers, sportsmen, actors, but above all about those who fought for their homeland. On this days all cemeteries and their surroundings are packed with people. Actually, cemeteries are more full during than usually a whole month predeceasing this holiday as people want to tidy the graves for the holiday. Many people travel hundreds of kilometers to visit all cemeteries where their close ones are buried.
Currently, special All Saints’ Day lanterns and candles are burning in graves and cemeteries, which are symbols of remembrance of the dead. The 1st of November is also a festival of chrysanthemums that can be purchased in front of cemeteries in all shapes, colours and variants and then be placed on the graves. The holiday is also closely related to Polish history and on that day the authorities and ordinary people make sure that flowers and candles appear not only on the graves of the dead, but also in memorial sites, in front of monuments and plaques, in places of battles and important historical events. Moreover, usually on every graveyard there is a central cross where people also leave candles and lanterns praying for the ones that don’t have their own graves or are forgotten. Quite often in front of the cemeteries small stalls with fair type of articles are placed where especially children can find special round dough cookies and sweets. The cemeteries are particularly spectacular on the 1st of November after dark when they glow with thousands of candles and lanterns.
People pray for their relatives on special sermons organized at cemeteries and they make prayers when they visit the graves. The believers also make sacrifices and pray in so called “wymienianki za zmarłych” (listing names of the dead in prayer). They write the names of the dead on cards that are collected by servers, asking the whole Church to pray for them.
All Saints’ Day in Poland is very interesting opportunity to meditate on briefness of human life and also observe Polish culture and typical customs. ITS DMC Poland heartily recommends visiting Poland during this time to observe these unusual customs. It is truly interesting to visit cemeteries (especially after dark) when they are enlightened by thousands of candles and have real supernatural mood. If you need any help with organizing your group’s stay in Poland we heartily recommend contacting one of our professional group advisors that will happily help you with all your stay details.
Author: Agnieszka Szwedzińska