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All Saints' Day


Origins of the holiday

All Saints' Day (in the Roman Catholic Church officially the Solemnity of All Saints, often shortened to All Saints, is a solemnity celebrated on 1 November by parts of Western Christianity, and on the first Sunday after Pentecost in Eastern Christianity, in honor of all the saints, known and unknown. (source : Catholic Online, All Saints’ Day)

In Poland November first is a very special holiday. Couple days before that day homes fill in with that special smell of fresh spruce and wax flowers. In preparation for All Saints we were always hand making special wreaths that would be placed on the graves to decorate them. In my home women of the house took care of selecting and cutting small twigs of spruce and also making flowers out of special wax, then they braided them together into a shape of round, oval or square wreaths while men would secure the structure of the wreath with metal wire.  There were two kinds of flowers that were applied onto the wreaths : kalla lily and chryzanthemum. Making them out of special wax was my grandma’s specialty, she was able to magically create unbelievably beautiful fowers that looked like ther were live. As an alternative she used dried flowers that she picked during summer and carefully dried over fall. Dried flowers were sprayed or painted with a coat of clear polish to protect them from moisture. Finally, there was an option of using fresh cut chryzanthemas for decorating the wreaths but considering freezing weather at this time of year in Poland, those were rather rare. The art of wreaths making was passed over my parents and they continue making them once a year for All Saints to this day.



In Portugal, Spain, and Mexico, offerings (Portuguese: oferendas, Spanish: ofrendas) are made on this day. In Spain, the play Don Juan Tenorio is traditionally performed. In Mexico, All Saints Day coincides with the celebration of "Díde los Inocentes" (Day of the Innocents), the first day of the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) celebration, honoring deceased children and infants. In Portugal, children celebrate the Pãpor-Deus tradition, and go door to door where they receive cakes, nuts and pomegranates. This only occurs in some areas around Lisbon.

In Austria, Belgium, France, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Spain, and American Cities such as New Orleans people take flowers to the graves of dead relatives.

In Poland, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Finland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Lithuania, Croatia, Austria, Romania, Moldova, Hungary and Catholic parts of Germany, the tradition is to light candles and visit the graves of deceased relatives.

In the Philippines, this day, called "Undas", "Todos los Santos" (literally "All Saints"), and sometimes "Araw ng mga Patay" (approximately "Day of the dead") is observed as All Souls' Day. This day and the one before and one after it is spent visiting the graves of deceased relatives, where prayers and flowers are offered, candles are lit and the graves themselves are cleaned, repaired and repainted.

In English-speaking countries, the festival is traditionally celebrated with the hymn "For All the Saints" by William Walsham How. The most familiar tune for this hymn is Sine Nomine by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Catholics generally celebrate with a day of rest consisting of avoiding physical exertion. .( source : Catholic Online, All Saints’ Day)

My personal memory of All Saints’ Day from back in Poland when I was still a child is the unforgetable smell of votive candles hundreds of which were lit all over the graves. Whole cemetary looked like a sea of lights, very warm and welcoming – and overwhelmingly beautiful. Family from far and near would garter around the graves of our close ones for prayer and reflection, also for some recolection of the past. There were tears of sadness and longing for the ones that passed away – but there was also joy from good memories of the past days spent with them. After the evening service and time spent around the graves we would gather in my grandma’s home for super. This time of year would usually bring snow and cold weather so everyone was crowding around the tiled stove to warm up hands over the fire.

My reflection over All Saints’ Day is that I miss it a lot here in the US and I wish my children were able to experience it the way we did as kids. Special value of this day lays not only in its religious background but also in the family character of spending it, reuniting with family members who are gone but still loved and missed, devoting time to looking into family’s past and appreciating the gift of people sorrounding us.