Halloween is not widely celebrated in Poland, but that is not to say that the ancient Celtic festival passes unnoticed. Whilst the ancient celebration, remembered in Eastern Poland as 'Dziady' (Forefathers) has been replaced by the festival of All Saints, which is now firmly intertwined with the Catholic Church.
The first of November or Wszystkich Świętych (All Saints’ Day) is a national holiday and the official name for the holiday in the Roman Catholic Church. However, it is very common in Poland to call the day, Dzień Zmarłych or Święto Zmarłych ( ‘Day of the Dead’). These names were first used by The Soviet Union during the period of occupation in Poland and their usage remains. On this day, according to Roman Catholic tradition, people celebrate the saints, their lives and their martyrdom. It is supposed to be a joyful event, a chance to worship saints and the belief in life after death. It is traditional to visit cemeteries, light candles and lay flowers in remembrance of the departed.
Krakow is one of the most evocative places in Poland to spend All Souls. The former Royal Capital has many old cemeteries, one of which is Rakowicki. To step through the Gothic gateway of Rakowicki Cemetery as night falls is to take a step into the otherworld where the spirits of the departed wander freely. Thousands of candles in vases of every shape and color gather as if placed magically by wandering spirits on graves and at the foot of memorials. The melodic chant of priests signing psalms, echo through the silence as the messengers of god wander amongst the paths bringing peace to the departed, whilst clouds of sweet smelling incense waft over their shoulders like mists through time. The scent of fresh chrysanthemums laid by the gravestones hangs in the still night air, a sensory reminder that death is close. Families wander through the illuminated paths throughout the night and if a raven or owl passes, this visit from a departed soul is celebrated. The memorials to the departed, from the desperate periods of Poland’s history, (the Warsaw Uprising of which a picture is annotated) are flooded with light from candles of remembrance. Although the graveyard is filled with mourners there is, everywhere a hushed, respectful silence as those present join together to form an incredibly dignified tribute to the departed.
The second of November is Dzień Zaduszny (All Souls’ Day) or Zaduszki . Typically the day is spent in prayer and reflection. It is when people remember their departed loved ones. Whilst it is not a public holiday, people come after work in the evening to graveyards with fresh candles.
For more Polish history check out
The Cypher Bureau -(how the Poles solved Enigma)