Like so many customs incorporated into Catholicism, this tradition actually has pagan roots. After All Saints’ Day was established as a holy day of obligation in 835, Saint Odilon had the bright idea in 998 of designating November 2nd as All Souls’ Day to replace the ancient Slavic tradition of ‘Dziady’. During Dziady (literally, ‘Forefathers’), the living would prepare an elaborate feast to host the souls of those who had passed, believing that on this day they were able to leave the afterlife and return to their families. Places were set at the table for the ancestors and fires were often lit on the road showing them the way to the house. A soul forgotten at Dziady would bring on bad luck. [For this reason we challenge you to find an unloved grave, however unlikely, and light a candle there.]
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 littered with 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 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.
As one of Poland’s most important public holidays, only public transportation and emergency response employees are obliged to work on November 1st (which falls on a Sunday in 2020). This year's events will look very different due to the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic, with the Polish government announcing on Friday 30 October that all cemeteries will be closed Saturday 31 October - Monday 02 November 2020 to prevent overcrowding. Prior to this announcement, even the Polish Catholic Church urged everyone not to visit cemeteries at the same time on 01/02 November, but to span it out in the weeks before and after, and it seems this is the best course of action. Such is the importance of this tradition, there's no doubt people will still tend to the graves of their loved ones, ensuring the glow of candles will continue throughout November.
Below are Łódź's most centrally-located cemeteries.