All Saints’ Day

Posted: November 1, 2010 in All Saints', Traditions

All Saints’ Day in Poland. One of those holidays that leave me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it’s a lot better than Halloween. Although I’m not a halloween hater, and think that for most people halloween means nothing more than candy and costumes, we all know halloween’s excesses and pagan roots. All Saint’s Day, with its emphasis on family and remembrance, is definitely more beautiful. As one of my Polish friends told me, “On All Saints’ Day the whole family is together. Those still living, and those who have gone on before.” What do you say to that? Statistically, Poles are more likely to travel home to their families on All Saints’ than they are for Christmas or Mother’s Day. Anyone who has ever walked through a Polish cemetery after dark on November 1, especially on a cold evening, will never forget the candles, the people, the not-too-loud sound of glass breaking, as the hot candles and cold air weaken the glass candleholders. That last bit may not sound as beautiful as it is – you’ll have to trust me on that one, I guess 🙂

And yet, All Saint’s has its own pagan roots and traditions. Leaving food by the grave, as some still do. Prayers for dead ancestors. I know that Catholics justify that with  a little verse from 2 Maccabees, but the support for prayers for the dead is pretty slim – and relies on the existence of purgatory, something that even many Catholic theologians are beginning to question. Granted, it’s no celebration of demons and devils – nothing evil about it – but it makes my Protestant sensibilities squirm.

However, I’m also not comfortable with the reaction of many of my Polish evangelical friends. This may sound strange, but they seem to treat All Saints’ Day the same way conservative American Christians treat Halloween (no pun intended). They look at it as an evil, pagan holiday, or at best as an evil, Catholic holiday. Many of them refuse to spend time with their extended, non-Protestant families, in order not to put their stamp of approval on All Saints’ Day. Why not? Is there anything intrinsically wrong with walking through a cemetery with your family and leaving a candle by your grandfather’s grave? What am I missing? But then, I don’t see anything intrinsically wrong with my kids dressing up like Spiderman and begging for candy, either. And many of my American Christian friends would say I’m missing an important point.

  1. Eric H. says:

    I read these. Keep posting!

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