Just after the West finishes celebrating Halloween, on the first and the second of November Poles congregate in churches and visit cemeteries to mark what in the Roman Catholic Church is known as Feast of All Saints.
2023 was no different, with the community also meeting the following weekend to keep their centuries old tradition alive.
Polish Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Czestochowa Community of Brothers and Sisters met on Saturday, 5 November, at the Islington and St. Pancras Cemetery.
Together with their priest, a small group of worshippers walked the alleys of the cemetery, praying for their loved ones buried at the site as well as for all who have left this world.
Tomasz Kocjan, rector of the Church of Our Lady of Czestochowa, explained the origin of this Polish tradition: “Christians do not celebrate the day of the dead.”
“We do not concentrate on death but on the promise of eternal life in Heaven.”
Rector Kocjan added that on the first of November, Catholics pray to those who already are with God in Heaven.
However, the second of November is dedicated to all who perished, including those who are still in purgatory and need prayers and support of those who they left behind in order to get to heaven.
Kocjan said: “It is also an expression of us still remembering them as well as an expression of our love towards them, as for Catholics death does not end our relations with our late relatives, it only changes its character.”
However, the celebrations do not start and finish at praying for the dead.
Rector Kocjan explained: “At the beginning of November, Poles visit cemeteries.
“They also take care of the graves of their loved ones, they clean them, they bring flowers and light candles.
“It is a beautiful view of a cemetery full of people and light that hovers above the graves.
“The light is a symbol of hope and a reminder that in the end death and darkness do not have a place in our lives.”
Those who keep it alive
Wojciech and Edyta Kaczmarscy, an elderly couple who took part in the Saturday procession, said that they visit their late relatives each year.
Now aged 86 and 80 respectively they and others like them carry on the tradition they grew up with.
Mr. Kaczmarski said: “We also have bought a space for ourselves, where we want to be buried after we die.”
What may sound unusual for the British is still popular among older generations in Poland, as well as in the countries where they happen to live – where many catholics secure their last resting place or even have entire graves built and stones engraved.
As Mr. Kaszmarski shared, he and his wife emigrated to Britain at a young age to join their fathers who served during the war and stayed in the UK.
They are also anxious about this custom passing away together with them.
There is uneasiness in Mr. Kaczmarskin’s voice when wondering if when they go, will there be anybody to visit them at their grave, to bring flowers and light up a candle.