All Saints’ Day is a Christian holiday during which we do not only recall those who were officially canonized but also those whose life led to salvation. It derives from an old tradition of worshipping martyrs who died in the name of God but were not mentioned during the services. With time the celebration became the day when all saints of Catholic church – not only martyrs – were recalled.
As the 1st of November – when All Saints’ Day is celebrated – is a bank holiday in Poland, it is used by Christians and non-believers as the time of recalling all those who passed away. The Poles visit the cemeteries to light candles on the graves of those whom they knew and loved. During the Communism the authorities tried to deprive the holiday from its Christian roots by calling it ‘the Day of the Dead’. Similar holiday, actually, is celebrated on the following day – that is 2nd November – that is called nowadays ‘All Souls’ Day’.
The latter one is an equivalent of a pagan holiday when the first Slavs would recall all those who died. During so called ‘Dziady’ feast (that used to be celebrated twice a year) they would help the lost souls to find forgiveness and the way to achieve eternal peace. Slavic and Baltic tribes would prepare the treat for the souls, that lost their way after death, to gain their favor. To make it easier for them to find the right way, all the streets and roads would be lit. As pagan traditions were forbidden in old Christian Poland, some of the customs were incorporated in holidays such as the All Souls’ Day. In Eastern Poland - as well as in some parts of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine – ‘Dziady’ survived as the tradition of bringing food to the graves.
Nowadays the both days are used by the Poles to visit cemeteries and pray for those who are not among us anymore. They embellish the graves with flowers, wreaths and similar decorations to show their remembrance to the dead ones. As the pagans would light the bonfire on graves, so that the souls would be offered warmth, the cemeteries now are filled with candles. They create exceptional scene for crowds of visitors. Numerous services, during which the names of the dead are mentioned, are given.
All Saints and All Souls’ Days differ a lot from Halloween or other Western traditions. They are meant to provide time for contemplation and show remembrance and care for those who died.