iStock/DariuszSkoczen
iStock/DariuszSkoczen

Instead of Halloween: celebrating traditional Polish holidays

2 minutes to read

During the 31st of October and the first days of November in Poland, you are not likely to see many people trick-or-treating or running around dressed up in scary costumes. The western tradition of Halloween celebrations only started becoming popular in the recent years and usually happens in big cities. These days are still national holidays for Polish people and function as the All Saints' and All Souls' days.

Centuries-long tradition

The holidays that are celebrated during this time of the year in Poland are associated with the major religion in the country - Catholicism, but also relate to the pre-Christian, pagan times. All Saints' Day is celebrated to commemorate all people that passed away. Usually, it is the time for the Polish families to visit the graveyards together, bring flowers, light candles, and remember the members of the family that are no longer with them. It might seem like a sad holiday but, in my opinion, it is all about closeness and bringing back good memories of our ancestors. It also has a magical atmosphere - especially in the evenings, when you can see hundreds of colorful candles shining brightly and warming up the atmosphere with families gathering together to say prayers.

©iStock /udmurd_PL
©iStock /udmurd_PL

In the pagan times, on the night of 31st of October (thus today's Halloween), there was one of the celebrations of Dziady. This was a feast devoted to the life, and all the passed away spirits. People believed they could have an influence on their lives, and by organizing libations, they tried to be granted favors by the spirits of their forefathers. This day was appropriated by the Christians and changed into Zaduszki (All Souls' Day).

Powązki – a beautiful old cemetery

@iStock/fotokon
@iStock/fotokon

One of the most popular places to visit in Warsaw during these days is Powązki Cemetery. Located close to the center, it is a picturesque, old necropolis where you can find great examples of sepulchral architecture and sculptures. It was settled in 1790, and three years later, a beautiful church of Saint Charles Borromeo emerged on the parcel. The whole area consists of a few separate entities: there is a regular, old cemetery, a Jewish part, and one dedicated to the war heroes. As it has great historical value and many famous and noble people were buried on Powązki, it is probably one of the most visited graveyards in the Polish capital. 

Powązki Cemetery, Warsaw
Powązki Cemetery, Warsaw
Powązkowska 1, 01-858 Warszawa, Polska

During the days of All Saints' and All Souls, it is already a tradition that popular actors gather on the cemetery to collect money for the restoration of the precious monuments. Each year, there is also a group of singers performing old baroque sacral songs on the topic of passing away. They gather on a specific day in the catacombs and sing for a few hours by the candlelight, encouraging the public to join (and giving away the lyrics). It is a truly beautiful tradition that lets you get into a reflexive mood and contemplate about the passing time. The cemetery was given the status of a monument of history in 2014 due to its historical value.

Even though we do not have too much to do on Halloween in Poland, if you are ever around during this time of the year, I encourage you to try to visit one of the cemeteries. It might be a completely new experience, but it has its magic to it. Celebrating traditional Polish holidays like All Saints' and All Souls' days makes for a unique atmosphere that will make you reflect on the past and bring back warm thoughts about your ancestors.


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The author

Anna Kowalska

Anna Kowalska

Hi, I'm Anna. Born and raised in Poland, I have been in the last few years travelling around Europe and living in various places. Motivated by a passion for art and culture, I travelled throughout my country and beyond. Apart from being an art historian, I'm also a food and music lover. Join me on a guided tour through the culinary, historical and cultural stories about my beautiful Poland.

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