I bet that you’ve been told that there is no such thing as Halloween in Poland. Well, that is partly true, as you won’t find this day in the Polish calendar. Halloween is not celebrated in Poland like it is in North America. People expecting Halloween to be full of costume parties and trick or treats may be unpleasantly surprised, because in Poland this holiday is completely overshadowed by the rather sad All Saint’s Day. We have our own traditions, Attempts to introduce Halloween failed, the same as Valentine’s Day. Poles haven’t succumbed to Halloween ceremonies, however I won’t deny that I would love to experience Halloween and wear a costume, but … in the USA, not in Poland. I don’t go as far as the Polish Episcopate which thinks Halloween is from the devil…But I don’t think it fits in our traditions.
All Saints’ Day is an annual national holiday celebrated in Poland on November 1st. It is followed by All Souls’ Day (November 2nd). All Souls’ Day is a day of prayer for those who have died. On All Saint’s Day, Poles visit cemeteries and focus on those whom they have lost. Many Poles travel long distances to visit family graves, thus November 1st has become the most traveled day in Poland. On a national level, the graves of important Poles and military tombs are honored. Visiting monuments, particularly memorials to victims of World War II, is an important part of the Polish culture.
On November 1st, day and night, candles and flowers are placed on the graves and tombs. This may sound like a sad scenario, and not the kind of thing that foreigners might want to see during their holidays but in fact this is a moment that everyone should see at least once in a lifetime.
There is no doubt that All Saints’ Day has a morose side, but there is also an element of magic. Many people in Poland light candles on the graves. These candles are special, they can burn for many hours, sometimes days, sometimes even weeks. It is believed that these candles help the departed souls find their way through the darkness. Candles in colorful glass jars that number in the millions light up cemeteries and at night, when the sky is cloudless, they can often be seen glowing from far away. On that one night, the sky above graveyards looks like it has been kissed by the aureola borealis. This incredibly evocative atmosphere should not be missed by anyone with a heart that still beats.
All Saints’ Day recalls the ancient and pagan aspect of Halloween tradition that described how the world of the living and the world of the dead collide. On the night between All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day past generations summoned spirits and they believed that the deceased would visit the living. This part calls ‘Dziady’ and is not celebrated anymore.
The traditions of All Saints Day are deeply rooted in the Polish culture. It is a serious celebration having nothing in common with a happy Halloween. Halloween is commercial, and basically North American (despite the fact it is an ancient druid holiday straight from Ireland). All Saints’ Day is time to be with the people closest to you and to think of those who are gone forever. It is very moving and very human holiday.
If you’ve never thought of going to the cemetery at night you should maybe consider it on All Saints’ Day. I do it every year. It is part of my life tradition.