All Saints' Day, observed on November 1st, is an important holiday celebrated, notably, in Poland and Lithuania, which the opportunity to recognize the deceased. If you're learning about Polish culture or Lithuanian holidays, or if you visit Poland or Lithuania during All Saints' and All Souls' Days, it's helpful to know what this day is all about. Similarities exist between the way the two countries observe this holiday, in part because Lithuania and Poland were once one country.
All Saints Observations
On this night, cemeteries are visited and candles and flowers placed on graves as the living say prayers for the deceased. The nature of the holiday does not dictate that only family members' graves are decorated; old and forgotten graves and the graves of strangers are also visited. On a national level, the graves of important figures and military tombs are honored.
Candles in colorful glass jars that number in the thousands light up cemeteries on All Saints' Day, and a day that might be otherwise considered a mournful affair is transformed into one of beauty and light. Additionally, it is an opportunity for family members to bond and to remember those whom they have lost. This time may also be a time of healing: the last century in both Poland and Lithuania saw populations reduced by war, occupying regimes, and deportations and this day may be when usually silent individuals talk about their losses.
Mass is held for those who wish to attend church and pray for the dead.
Families may join together for a meal, leaving an empty place with a plate filled with food and a full glass as a way of honoring those that have passed.
Halloween and All Saints Day
Halloween is not observed in Poland or Lithuania like it is in the United States, but All Saints' Day recalls the ancient aspect of the Halloween tradition that describes how the world of the living and the world of the dead collide.
All Saints' Day is followed by All Souls' Day (November 2nd), and it's the evening between these two days that past generations believed that the deceased would visit the living or return to their homes. In Lithuania, the day is called Vėlinės, and its history is steeped in pagan legend when feasts and ceremonies remembered those who lived before. In the past, after visiting the graves of the deceased, family members would return home together to dine on seven dishes that were "shared" with the dead souls visiting Earth--the windows and doors were left open to facilitate their arrival and departure.
Various superstitions have traditionally surrounded this day, such as bad weather signifying a year of death and the idea that churches are filled with souls on this day.