Polish Culture: All Saints Day

I think that everybody who lives as an expat somewhere in the world has a day in a year he really would like to be back home. For some it might be Halloween, Carnival, Koningsdag or Holi. For me it was always All Saint’s Day.

The first of November is a very special date in polish culture. On this day you gather together with your family around richly decorated graves of your deceased loved ones. The cemeteries on that day drown in the flood of flowers and candles. You can’t say it’s a joyful holiday, but it is far from being sad. It’s full of reflection and contem-plation. Being a child I loved this foggy November morning on the colorful cemeteries, where humid scent of fallen leaves mixed with the sweet smell of giant yellow chrysanthemum, and the magic evening when the cemetery was immersed in dim light of candles in colorful jars.

Graveyard cult is deeply rooted in polish culture. It comes back to the 19th century cult of the roman-tic hero and the long term fight for independence. A grave of a hero was seen as a source of spiritual power. And then the difficult history of World War II when nearly every family has lost some loved ones. Coming to the cemetery was a way of healing.

I think that Poles really kind of like going to the funerals, even of distant reltives or somebody who lived in the same village. When I call my mother, one of her first sentences often is ‘You know who died?’ and then I got detailed story of some neigbor’s funeral. People measure your ‘locality level’ with the amount of dead with the same name on local cemetery.

Now I’m really looking forward to the nearest 1 of November when – with a bag of candles in one hand and three children in the other- I visit few cemeteries in Silesia, where I was born. And I’ll talk about my Grandma Anna with holes in her cheecks while she was laugh-ing, my Grandpa Alojzy who loved dancing and my uncle Janusz who drove a big red fire engine. And the kids will fight as usual who lights the candle first, and I together with my husband will desperately try to protect their long hair and down jackets from fire. All as an essen-tial part of All Saint’s Day.

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