All Saints' Day in                Poland

On the first day of November the people in Poland celebrate All Saints. They visit the graves of their dead relatives and/or friends at the cemetery to remember them.


The origin of All Saints as we know in our western culture dates from 13th of May 609 or 610. Pope Bonifatius IV blessed the Pantheon in Rome to the Holy Virgin and martyrs. This feast is still celebrated in Rome. The date, 13th of May, has been copied from the pagan celebration 'Feast of the Lemuria'. This was celebrated on the 9th, 11th and 13th of May. In this feast the people try to get into favour of evil and restless spirits (Lemuria). Pope Gregorius IV (827 - 844) placed this day of celebration to the first of November and declared it as an official day of memory in the Roman-Catholic Church. On this day he wanted to remember all the dead saints, confessors and martyrs. The first of November refers to the Celtic New Year Samhain. Samhain is the celebration of the transition from Summertime to Wintertime. After sowing-season earth enters a period of rest in where she can prepare on the new life in spring. Celtics, witches and pagans see the beginning of the dark period as the start of new life and a new year. The Celtics believed that the border between the world of the living and the world of the dead was open at Samhain. At Beltain, the opposite of Samhain, they thought the same. (Beltain is a celtic fertility feast (-celebration) and celebrates the transition from wintertime to summertime.) The dead could go to earth and visit their friends and family. To show the dead the way people put candles in the windows. An other version is that the spirits of the dead came back to earth to take revenge to the living people and brought them bad luck. That's why people found it necessary to disguise themselves so the spirits couldn't recognize them and possible frightened them.


On the second of November the dead are remembered. The name of this celebration is All Souls and is a tradition of the Roman Catholic Church. The Orthodox Church celebrates All Souls on several days spread over the year. The Roman-Catholic celebration is based on the theory that the souls of the dead believers who stay in purgatory by remembering them getting support in their difficult time on the way to eternal paradise. The relatives put flowers on the grave and in the church there is a requiem mass. The Benedictine Monastery in Cluny (90 KM north of Lyon in France) introduced the remembering of the dead by celebrating it the first time in 998.


Several days before the first of November people already visit the cemeteries to clean, to repair (if needed) and to decorate the graves of their dead relatives and friends. The decoration consists traditionally of yellow chrysanthemums and candlelights. The first of November the relatives visit together the grave of the dead relative, light some candles, place flowers and remember the dead person. The ritual takes about ten till fifteen minutes. Not only friends or relatives are remembered, as well celebrities, victims of war and the communist regime during the period from 1945 till 1989. Oft their graves are surrounded by many, many candlelights, flowers and garlands. Graves of unknown dead or left graves are decorated and maintained by nuns or schoolchildren.


Originally dead friends and relatives were remembered on the second of November, All Souls Day, as prescribed by the Roman Catholic Church. During the Soviet-Communist regime in Poland this has been changed. The Soviet-Communists were against the Church and tried to undermine their authority much as possible. But they couldn't do it too obvious because then the Catholic population should turn against them strongly. By making the first of November a holiday and name it 'Day of the dead' the Communist Government tried to do a favour for the population. The people have used this holiday to celebrate All Souls instead to celebrate it on the next day the second of November. This habit has struck root in Poland so that even after the fall of the Communist regime the holiday on the first of November has maintained. And the people still  visit the graveyards to remember the dead on the first of November instead on the next day on All Souls Day.