Let us love people now, they leave us so fast / The shoes remain empty, their phone just rings on…
/ from “Let us hurry” by Jan Twardowski /
November 1st in Poland is the day when Poles visit graves of their relatives and friends and lit candles on them. In this custom intertwine two separate traditions: popular Christian “All Saints Day” and Slavic pagan “Dziady” (dziad = wandering old beggar) – festival of the dead on November 2nd . Visiting the graves is done so within two days but only November 1st is a holiday.
Feast of All Saints was established by the catholic Church in the 8th century. First to honor Christian martyrs, then to honor all the saints. This feast is also celebrated in many Protestant churches, Anglican and some sects of Lutheranism. The celebrations consist of special Mass and the special procession passing the cemetery.
Polish tradition added to this festival pagan tradition of “Dziady”, celebrated by our ancestors on November 1st, the day before the celebration of the Day of the Dead. Nowadays Slavs Day of the Dead (November 2nd) has merged into one with All Saints Day, called sometimes Day of the Dead.
The core of this tradition was the belief that souls of the dead come on November 2nd to the Earth, and therefore they must be properly treated to gain their favor. Pagan Slavs used to arrange then on November 1st – at home or on the graves – a special feast with honey, grits, eggs, kutia (Eastern food with grain) and vodka. Part of this food was left on the tables, on the floor or on the graves so souls of the dead could feed themselves.
Food for dead souls, Pęcice, 2008 / photo. Lesza Ślężyńska
Migratory beggars (dziady) were invited to feasts because it was believed that they had contact with the dead, and could ask them for the favor. Beggars were treated by specially baked bread that had an oblong shape and was decorated with a cross and an ornament on edges. The custom of leaving food for deceased survived to some extent to this day and is practiced in the eastern Polish regions.
But the tradition of the November 1st in Poland is most associated with the custom of lighting glass candles on the graves, which also originates from pagan festival of the dead. To light the way for the souls Slavs rekindled the fire. Initially it was done at crossroads and since the 16th – 17th century also at churchyard cemeteries and graveyards outside towns and villages. The grave lights are the modern reminder if this nice Slavs tradition, which is nowadays practiced by modern pagan churches in Poland.
Day of Dead, Pęcice 2008 / photo: Lesza Ślężyńska
If the weather is fine, this is a very nice tradition. Strongly lit cemeteries look beautiful in the evening and many members of the families or other people meet by the graves the only time in a year. Reflection over those who have passed is intertwined with talks about the present.
Powązki Cemetery in Warsaw, graves of scouts from the Gray Ranks killed in the Warsaw Uprising