All Saints’ Day (Dzień Wszystkich Świętych) and All Souls’ Day (Dzień Zaduszny, or Dzień Wszystkich Zmarłych) take place on 1st and 2nd of November in Kraków and across Poland, when entire families crowd into cemeteries to place flowers, pay their respects to loved ones and place candles, tens of thousands of candles !
The effect is a rather spectacular sight of thousands of coloured candles, placed on and around graves, with flowers, and often more personal specific ‘gifts’ left for the passed family and friends.
The masses of people, literally queuing up to enter the cemetery, visiting their family grave, and then wandering solemnly around the cemetery, is a remarkable and unforgettable experience, when the collective respect and compassion for the dead is incredibly moving.
Barely a grave is left forgotten or unattended to, often people can be seen laden with candles which they place at strangers graves, which may otherwise be less cared for.
The candles often burn for days, and many are replenished in the first few days of November, prolonging the respectful and often tender spectacle.
A visit to one of Kraków’s cemeteries to pay your respects and to witness this incredibly moving and dignified paying of respect to the dead is a must.
Of course Kraków’s Rackowicki and Salwator cemeteries may be the main locations, but any and all cemeteries across the city will have their own magical, moving display. Krakow in your Pocket, have a useful page with links to the main cemeteries.
Even if you have no personal connection to any of the cemeteries inhabitants, there are always the graves of those who died, without family, as well as commonwealth and other military war graves for you to leave a candle and take part in the mass display of respect and remembrance of the dead.
I have been moved by families leaving candles at the graves of young Soviet conscript soldiers at Borek Cemetery, a gesture repeated, respecting friends and strangers alike, across Kraków and Poland.
Once again this year, there will be a special concert for the dead, Memento Vitae, The concert will be take place at 7pm on All Saints Day (1st Nov.) at Rakowicki Cemetery (entrance from ul. Prandoty).
Don’t forget All Saints Day is also an official public holiday, so beware of many shops and services being closed.
Such is the volume of people attending the main cemeteries that special road closures, parking and public transport arrangements are put in place, with Police and City Guards on hand to keep traffic and people moving.
Details, in Polish, of public transport and other special arrangements can be found here.
Please remember, that whilst this is a solemn and moving spectacle, to visitors and outsiders, this is also a time of intense personal feelings of grief, remembrance and compassion for many Poles who are paying their respects, albeit en masse, to their dearly departed loved ones.
Please be respectful of this at all times when visiting cemeteries.
All Saints’ Day is celebrated in Poland and in many other countries. According to some sources, the idea for All Saints’ Day goes back to the fourth century while other sources say that a commemoration of “All Martyrs” began to be celebrated as early as 270 CE. Pope Gregory IV made All Saints’ Day an authorised holiday in the Catholic Church in 835 CE.