Once a year the cemeteries in Poland light up with millions of candle lanterns and decorated with flowers. The cemetery aisles fill with relatives of the deceased who travel from around the country and sometimes the world to commemorate the life on earth of their dearly deceased. This unique occasion is called ‘All Saints Day’.
On November 1st the Catholic Church recalls all people who reached the status of holiness, paying special attention to those who led the holy life in hiding and were not canonized. Contrary to popular belief, this day is not the “Day of the Dead” but a joyful thanksgiving for all those who achieved sanctity. Although All Saints’ Day is connected to Christianity, it is celebrated by the majority of Poles, even atheists or those of different religions. November 1st is a public holiday in Poland and remained so, even during Communism.
The origin of All Saints Day is rooted in the cult of martyrs. On the anniversary of death, which for Christians marks the beginning of a better life in heaven, priests celebrate a Holly Mass on the graves of the martyrs and read the descriptions of martyrdom. The memory of those who sacrificed their lives to prove their strength of faith in Christ was in the first communities carefully preserved. Each local community had the record of their martyrs. Gradually, the list was filled with names of not only martyrs but also other people of special sainthood. In the 7th century in Rome the Pope Boniface IV devoted the former Pantheon and transformed it into a church in honor of the Mother of God and all Martyrs. The Pope instructed that stones should be placed – brought from the catacombs of Christian martyrs – inside the Pantheon. Historians report that as many as 28 full carts were brought. The Roman Feast of All Saints is connected with the anniversary of current events. The celebrations were moved from May 13th to November 1st, because of the difficulty of feeding pilgrims coming to Rome in the Spring.
Besides the spiritual value of this holiday, a walk among the graves is a lesson in history. Many cemeteries are a home to fallen heroes, so it gives us yet another reason to pay tribute to the men and women that fought for Poland’s freedom.
November 2nd is All Souls Day, which is primarily celebrated in the Catholic Church, but also in the Eastern Orthodox Church and a few other Christian denominations. According to the teaching of the Catholic church, the soul of a person who passes away can go to one of three places. The first place is heaven, where a person who dies in a state of perfect grace and communion with God. The second is hell, where those who die in a state of mortal sin are naturally condemned by their choice. The intermediate state is purgatory, which is a place of purification or temporary punishment. Souls in purgatory have a chance to come clean and join the souls in heaven. All Souls day is dedicated to those who require spiritual assistance in reaching heaven.