All Saints Day (November 1) In Poland

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If you go to any cemetery in Poland at the beginning of November, you will be astounded to see it fully lit with thousands of candles and decorated with tons of flowers of all kinds (but mostly the Chrysanthemums). All of this is due to All Saints' Day, a Polish tradition in which Poles from all over the country travel to their hometowns to visit the graves of their deceased relatives.

In Poland, the celebration is known as Wszystkich Witych, which translates to "All Saints." It is also common to hear people refer to this day as Dzie Zmarych or Wito Zmarych (which mean Day of the Dead), names that were adopted during the socialist period in Poland because they did not contain any religious references. It is a bank holiday dedicated to remembering the dead, during which most people visit cemeteries to lay flowers and light candles on the graves of their loved ones.

One of Poland's bank holidays falls on November 1st. The day off work is dedicated to the festival of All Saints, which many foreigners relocating or already living in the country may be unfamiliar with. What makes it so unique?

 

Feast of saints or the dead?

Although All Saints' Day (in Polish: Dzie? Wszystkich?wi?tych) is associated with Christianity, it is widely observed by the majority of Poles, including atheists and people of other faiths. It began as a way for the Church to honor all those regarded as'saints,' thus setting an example for those still walking the Earth. However, it gradually gained popularity as a holiday dedicated to remembering loved ones who had died. In fact, it became entwined with the pagan feast of the dead, which is more closely related to modern Halloween.

It may strike you that, in comparison to other cultures' traditions, such as the Mexican Dia de Muertos or American Halloween, the Polish tradition of All Saints' Day appears to be rather sad and solemn. Indeed, some argue that celebrating Halloween in a "American way" is disrespectful of the Polish tradition.

 

What is its origin and how did it all begin?

All Saints' Day is observed annually by Roman Catholics, some Protestants, and Eastern Orthodox churches. It dates back to the early fourth century, when the celebration was first observed.

However, the Polish origins of All Saints' Day can be traced back to an ancient Slavic (meaning pre-Christian) feast called Dziady, which translates as "Forefathers" in Polish. As a result, many of the traditions associated with the holiday have ancient pagan roots.

Old beliefs held that during this time of year, the souls of forefathers would return to earth to visit their families. People would bake special small loaves of bread called powaki lub heretyczki to feed the souls on this occasion. They had to be ready 1-2 days earlier because on November 1st, when the souls returned to their homes, fireplaces were said to be their favorite spots... It was also customary to place food (particularly bread, honey, and groats) on graves and offer it to street beggars and priests who were thought to have contact with "the other side."

It had also been a tradition to build bonfires at the crossroads to guide lost souls home and provide a warm place for them to rest. Later, people began lighting candles directly on the graves, a tradition that has persisted to this day.

 

Working day off

On this day, religious Poles tend to visit churches, while the majority gather at cemeteries to remember deceased family members, friends, prominent historical figures, or local activists. It is a day off from work because many people travel long distances to their hometowns and other destinations to pay their respects and meet family members. After Christmas and Easter, All Saints' Day may be one of the most popular family gathering occasions for Poles.

 

November 2nd - All Souls' Day.

All Saints' Day is followed by All Souls' Day (Zaduszki lub Dzie Zaduszny in Polish). It is observed on November 2nd, which is not a bank holiday, but practicing Roman Catholics attend mass on that day.

As with many Polish holidays, this one extends to the following day, which is known as All Souls' Day (in Polish: Zaduszki). In terms of religion, this should be a major celebration of those who have died but have not yet achieved sainthood. In reality, even though it is not a holiday, many people spend it at home or travel to another location to visit the graves of distant relatives.

 

What are your options?

As a foreigner working or studying in Poland, you will almost certainly have a day off due to the national bank holiday. It is an excellent opportunity to learn more about Polish culture and the people who live or have lived in the country. Visit a nearby cemetery, particularly after dusk, when the lights and candles create an unusual sight. You can even light a candle at a forgotten grave or a nearby war memorial. Don't worry, they'll still be crowded with people visiting the graves, and you might even hear some friendly banter along the cemetery lanes.

Even though it is a holiday, cities and towns tend to be quite congested, particularly around cemeteries. It is quite common for city councils to introduce additional bus lines, sometimes free of charge, to assist citizens, particularly the elderly, in reaching the graves of their loved ones, as well as to combat traffic congestion.

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