Sara Naumann blog PHoto Friday Oliwa park All Saints

Apologies for the darkness in this photo—I think you can still get the sentiment, though, can’t you?

November 1st was All Saints’ Day. It’s a major holiday here in Poland, where most of the country is Catholic. This was our second All Saints’ Day here and I remember last year having to Google it—my neighbors and the relocation people warned us to stock up on groceries since the stores would be closed and to make sure to go to the nearest cemetery to see what happens.

It’s probably one of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen in Poland, and might just become one of my favorite memories. European cemeteries are beautiful—elaborate, big, sprawling and old. It’s very different from the newer cemeteries I’m used to seeing in the US, where the headstones are small and lie flat on the grass. There’s a cemetery close to my parents’ house in Oregon and when you drive by, it just looks like a golf course. You’d really never know it’s a graveyard at all. Here, the headstones rise up, sometimes crookedly, always elaborately carved with names, dates, sentiments, crosses, angels, Madonnas. They’re big. Some are really big, actually. And some of the graves have little benches placed at the foot. For All Saints, they are decorated with flowers and candles. Not a small bouquet and a tea light, mind you, but wreaths and potted plants and lots of big colored glass candleholders.

The place glows.

We went to the nearby Oliwa Cemetery in the early evening, after the sun had set. This cemetery is fairly large and there was a steady stream of people—old, young, babies, parents, kids, teenagers—all heading along the path from the church with plastic bags clinking with glass candleholders. Someone is always balancing a plant. Families chat as they go, and chat as they stand at the graves, lighting candles and arranging the display just so. The mood isn’t what you would call celebratory but it’s not somber, either. It seems quite normal, like actually visiting someone who was alive.

I don’t know if it comes down to Catholic compared to Protestant, or if it’s European compared to American. I had never seen anything like this growing up, where graveside decorations usually mean a small vase of flowers or a flag on Veteran’s Day or Memorial Day. Maybe it has to do with how transitory Americans are—people often don’t live in the same city or state where their relatives are buried. Here people refer to it as “going to see the grandparents”.

Anna loved it as well. It’s actually a very sensory experience, with the dark and the candles and the sense of being in a certain place at an unusual time of day. It really does feel a bit surreal, in a lovely and quite comforting way. I’m so glad that she—and we—had a chance to experience it.

Happy Friday to you!