Kelvin Joseph on the Meaning of All Saints Day

As evening falls on All Saints Day, the glow of thousands of candles spreads through Kraków, Poland’s New Podgórze Cemetery. Families leave candles on the hillside graves to continue a respectful holiday tradition and create a poignant memorial. IMB photo

Kelvin Joseph lives in Europe with his wife Elizabeth.

I had no idea what All Saints Day celebrated. Two years ago my wife and I moved to Poland, a traditionally Catholic country. As night fell on November 1, the soft glow of thousands of candles spread over nearly silent crowd walking or standing near the graves of their loved ones and ancestors.

We joined a historical tour that took us to one of Kraków’s largest cemeteries. We stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the locals among the booths selling candles and flowers. Families jostled through the crowd on their respectful journeys to visit the deceased. And my heart for this city and its people was transformed.

“You see a lot of solemnness and a lot of emotionlessness, but emotionlessness in Poland is sadness,” a coworker in Kraków told me. “As a believer and someone who loves Poles, you don’t want this sadness to be the future of coming generations of Poles.”

My Polish Catholic friend Anna said, “All Saints Day is more spiritual than many holidays…. We believe that only God knows for sure if a person is in heaven. So we just pray that if this person is in heaven, then great, but if this person is still waiting in purgatory, then we are praying for them.”

These prayers for the deceased are offered in Catholic Masses and during visits to the graves of loved ones and famous saints. Flowers and candles are also left on the graves and shrines.

Many friends describe how the holiday means so much to their families. It could be the one time during the year that they return to the village where they were born and raised. The masses of people traveling to their home villages or to the large cemeteries in Polish cities make for crowded streets and public transportation on days when nearly every store and public service is closed.

Much of Poland is still rural, with homes bunched into villages between vibrant fields and forests. “We just meet and go to visit grandparents,” Anna said. “This is the only time of the year when people in my family talk about some people who have already passed away. But when we’ve already visited the graves, they remember things from the past, and you get to hear about when your parents were only 10.”

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Source: Baptist Press