Halloween is still a relatively new event in the Polish calendar and while many restaurants and bars have embraced the holiday from a business and marketing perspective, it is still nowhere near as popular as the holiday in other parts of Europe let alone the United States of America. In fact, there has been something of a backlash against the growth of the event in recent years with many openly against the celebration of Halloween. While many Poles and the church consider the holiday commercial and even blasphemous, it is important to note that this time of year already has a tradition established over centuries – All Saints Day. Many are concerned that the growth of the Halloween holiday endangers this quite remarkable holiday and it is the diluting of that tradition that many are concerned with.
November 1 is a public holiday in Poland on whichever day of the week it falls. In Polish the day is called Uroczystość Wszystkich Świętych or All Saints’ Day and is the day when Poles meet together as families and visit the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried to lay flowers and pay their respects. The sheer numbers of people that visit cemeteries on this day can be breathtaking for those arriving from a country where this tradition is not so strongly recognized. Literally millions take to the roads across the country, often travelling to multiple cemeteries where graves are cleaned and covered with flowers and candles. Police are mobilized to manage the large numbers of cars on the roads and in many cases, traffic flows are re-organised in the areas around the most popular cemeteries to ensure traffic continues to flow and that there are special short-term car parks created for people to park.
Even if you have no relatives buried in the city, we would still recommend that you take the opportunity to visit one of the cemeteries during this special day. While the general atmosphere is sombre it is not, in our experience, a depressing one. There is something rather uplifting about seeing generations of the same family taking the time to visit the graves of relatives and to spend time together. It’s worth noting that those graves which no longer have anyone to visit them, are also cleaned by the families of neighbouring graves. The result of all the cleaning and flower-laying is also something quite remarkable to behold. The graves gleam and the cemeteries, shrouded by leafless trees and grey autumn skies, burst into colour with chrysanthemums a typical flower used at this time. It is a remarkable and strangely uplifting sight. As the day passes and the light begins to fade, the visual effect becomes even more incredible as the thousands of candles give off an eerie, flickering light which illuminates the darkness and creates an amazing picture.
Sopot has a main city cemetery found on the edge of the forest at ul. Malczewskiego and we recommend you buy a candle or two and take a stroll up there to experience this rather remarkable Polish tradition for yourself. You will find a centrally located cross with lots of candles at its foot. This is where those who have people they wish to remember in other cemeteries leave their candle and take a moment to remember them.
Next to the communal cemetery you will also find the ancient remains of the city’s Jewish cemetery. The ancient moss-covered headstones combined with the tragic story of what happened to the city’s Jewish population before and at the start of WWII, makes a visit here even more poignant. Some local residents, as well as the Jewish community association based in Gdansk-Wrzeszcz ensure that the souls here are not forgotten and you will see many candles left on a central staircase by locals paying their respects.