Polish traditions of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.

Remember Me Research Associate Dr Marcin Biernat explains emerging and continuing traditions around All Saints’ Day in the Polish community in Hull.

Many celebrate Halloween on the night of 31st October, but the Roman Catholic Church in Poland opposes Halloween and its celebration. The All Saints’ Day and the All Souls’ Day are more important for Polish Catholics. However, many young people have been celebrating Halloween in Poland for some years.

In the evening of 31st October, the vespers are held in the Catholic churches across Poland and in response to the Halloween traditions, parishes and schools in Poland have started organising what is called: Bal Wszystkich Świętych (All Saints’ Ball). There was one organised by the Polish Priest here in Hull (on 29th October). It is rather a new tradition in Poland and among Polish diaspora, a sort of ‘invented tradition’ which tries to refer to the Christian tradition (in opposition to the pagan worship of Halloween). The idea of this ball is that children dress up as saints to remember and commemorate the lives of people canonised by the Roman Catholic Church. Most children dress up as Virgin Mary, St. Peter, St.Paul, St. Nicholas, and most of all Polish saints such as John Paul II, Maximilian Kolbe (who gave his own life for an inmate in Auschwitz) or St. Jadwiga (the Queen of Poland in the 14th century). There are dances and contests. This cheerful and joyful event is in sharp contrast with the often scary Halloween events.

The first of November is Wszystkich Świętych (All Saints’ Day) and this is the official name of the religious holiday in the Roman Catholic Church. However, it is very common in Poland to name this day as Dzień Zmarłych or Święto Zmarłych (for example, ‘Day of the Dead’). These names were adopted by The Communist Party during the period of communism in Poland but these are still in use in the popular language. On this special day, 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. As far as this is a public holiday in Poland people usually go to the cemeteries. They visit the graves of deceased, especially their relatives. It is essential to light grave candles and bring flowers, chrysanthemums being most popular. It is also common to clean the graves before or on the first of November.

The second of November is Dzień Zaduszny (All Souls’ Day) or Zaduszki in short. This is a rather reflective (or contemplative) day, a chance to pray. It is the time when people commemorate and remember their departed loved ones. Although this is not a public holiday and most people go to work, they still come in the afternoon or in the evening to bring new grave candles. The evenings are really remarkable with all those grave candles glowing in the dark and this view makes you think and most of all remember the departed loved ones.

Biala Parish Cemetery Bielsko-Biala, Poland. Photo: copyright Marcin Biernat.

Dr Marcin Biernat  is working on Case study B: Countries old and new: memorialisation among Polish migrants in Hull with Dr Lisa Dikomitis.

He is a graduate of  Jagiellonian University, Poland holding MA degree (magister) in Sociology. His PhD is also in Sociology (Jagiellonian Univeristy). In his thesis he has conducted a research on Irish cultural and national identity. His research interests include collective memory, collective identity, national pride, local communities and new media. Currently he is also conducting a research on collective memory and identity in local community in Poland.


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