All Saints Day

If you hail from the decadent west then October 31st is generally seen as a time to fit into a scary outfit before getting trollied on punch and waking up next to some right old witch. The tradition of Halloween is fast catching on in Poland – and you’ll find numerous parties scheduled for the usual expat haunts. Readers expecting a wild time of costume parties and rollicking Halloween debauchery may be shocked however to discover a rather sobering, sombre scene during the evenings of November 1 and 2. Known nationally as All Saints’ Day (Dzień Wszystkich Świętych) and All Souls’ Day (Dzień Zaduszny, or Dzień Wszystkich Zmarłych) respectively, these two days of the calendar year are dedicated to prayer and paying tribute to the deceased by visiting their graves. This is one of Poland’s most important public holidays, and only transport and emergency service staff are expected to work – don’t be surprised to find your favourite hostelry bolted shut for the night. Whole families descend on graveyards to lay wreaths and light candles for deceased family members, and prayers said at the gravestone are meant to help the souls of the dead. A Catholic tradition across many Eastern European countries, the Polish take it particularly seriously and even the graves of the unknown or forgotten are cleaned up and have candles. While you may not think lurking around a cemetery in the dark is the best way to spend an evening, it’s incredibly beautiful to see the cemeteries lit up by candles all night long, so wrap up warm and go and have a look. While we could wax poetic about the unearthly glow of the immense candlelight, the murmur of prayer and psalms, the subtle smells of the incense, fresh flowers and burning wax, the shades of ravens in the trees, the wet grass and mists, and the surreal duality of the supernaturally charged, yet tranquil atmosphere, we’d prefer you just experience it for yourself. Remember to take a candle along with you. 

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