All Saint's Day
November 1st is a serious holiday in Poland. For the most part in America, we are vaguely aware that Halloween, or "All Hallow's Eve," precedes All Saint's Day. But who celebrates November 1st?
I've been told that this is a bigger "family" holiday than Christmas. People travel to be with families so that they can enjoy the rituals of the day, which do center around the cemetary.
Here in Krakow, for weeks beforehand, glass-covered candles called znicze are sold everywhere, from the grocery store, to newspaper kiosks, to florists. They come in every shape and size you can imagine. Fall floral arrangements, wreaths, and greenery are collected.
On November 1st, the family goes to the cemetary, cleans the grave area, and decorates with flowers. Many, many candles are lit on each gravestone. Of course, everyone else is there doing the same thing. Stores everywhere are closed on this day, and traffic is blocked from the area around the cemetary (to make room for the peope). Every tram and bus is rerouted to carry people to and from the cemetaries, and by the time the sun goes down in the evening, the candle-lights make the cemetary as bright as day.
Many of the traditional Halloween themes are mockeries of these traditions--skeletons, ghosts, cemetaries with spooky gravestones. It occurred to me recently that even Jack-o'-Lanterns may be a take-off of these enclosed candles.
We don't celebrate this day ourselves, but we know pretty well what everyone else is doing today.