Agree or disagree, Poland’s history, culture, and traditions are shaped heavily by the Roman Catholic Church. One would say that Polish religious customs are one of a kind in the world. For centuries, being a nation of many different cultures, Polish tradition is surely a mix of an Eastern and Western world.
Poland celebrates all of the important Roman Catholic holidays like Easter, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Second Day Christmas Day, Corpus Christi, and Assumption Day. Similarly, All Saint’s Day (Wszystkich Świętych) and All Souls’ Day (Dzień Zaduszny), celebrated on November 1st and 2nd, respectively, are also very special to the Poles.
Having to live in Poland, in a family house right across from a cemetery, I vividly remember the view and the aroma of the thousands of candles flickering with a rainbow of colors. Hundreds of people walking and praying among the lit, marble tombs, reflecting on passed on relatives and friends. The cemetery was full of life until the very late night hours. Around one or two in the morning, the glow of candles seemed to slowly extinguish. Until the next day, when the candles started to glow again.
For a Polish kid, All Saint’s Day was also a chance to explore. Explore with fire and hot wax, of course. On that day, ordinarily forbidden box of matches became a box of flaming and hazardous fire sticks used in every way possible to prolong the fun. Lighting up the candles was just a pre-game to more fun, read: dangerous games.
Flicking the match was one of my favorites. In one hand, you hold the match (zapałka) with your thumb on the strike strip (draska), and using the other hand, you flick the match with your index finger. If you are skilled, the lit match will shoot up in the air like a small rocket. If you could hit your buddy with the match, you have mastered the skill. No, nobody lost an eye.
Another activity was the hot, candle wax (wosk). Making the wax fist was a must. Having so much colorful and moldable material around was a perfect opportunity for an experimentation. Yes, the first layer was painful but after couple of extra layers, our fists were ready for the smash-a-ton. The hardest shell would win. The reward was a pink hand smelling like a candle.
But the most fun, and by far, the most dangerous game played in the cemetery, was the explosive spit cup called patena. You take a small, burnt out, metal candle cylinder, wrap some wire around it for a handle, fill it up with wax, and hold it over a lit candle. When the wax catches on fire, you spit in the cylinder causing the wax to explode up in the air. If you showed up at the school next day with all your eyebrows intact, your patena obviously sucked.
Looking from a perspective, those games were extremely dangerous. One would hope that today, the sentimental parents would at least provide some good tips and supervision. American style Halloween is fun, but All Saint’s Day in Poland rules the pants out of trick-o-treating.
Please, share your experience about living in Poland. Our experience and traditions make us what we are today.