The 1st of November marks All Saints’ Day, one of the most magical and superstitious 24 hours in the Lithuanian calendar. Rows of people, all day and night make their way to the cemeteries to visit their departed friends and family.
On this day flickering candles line the graves creating a ghostly ambience all over the country. It’s a day of remembrance, togetherness, and reflexion.
To me, it also marks the official start of winter. My memories of this night are engraved with whirling snowflakes in the cold crisp air and strong winds howling out of nowhere.
This eerie night, to my delight, almost always brought snow as we walked from one cemetery to the other in my hometown.
All Saints’ Day brings everyone together. Aunties and cousins you haven’t seen in forever, friends who moved away, everybody comes home.
After lighting the candles, saying grace and stomping around in the cold we always ended up at my godfather’s house, closest to the cemetery, for a chat and a cup of tea.
All Saints’ Day in Lithuania is a rather elaborate event and also a national holiday. Like many old traditions in Lithuania, this one springs from the pagan days as well and in years past All Saints’ Day was celebrated for days even for weeks with special rituals.
Even in the 1900s, it was believed, that on this day, souls come back to earth and gather in the churches and graveyards. Therefore, families would feast right on the graves of the dead and leave the leftovers out overnight.
A vivid memory creeps into my mind as the day approaches. At my grandmother’s house, a table set elaborately with food and drinks for many more people than there were present in the house. Around the table, a number of empty plates set, ‘for the souls’, the grandma explains.
This was a tradition amongst the older generation, inviting the souls of the deceased for a hearty feast amongst the living. The table was set on the eve of All Saints’ Day and after dinner, the table was left as it is overnight so the souls could feast all night long.
The feasts have vanished with time, but the belief remains. Every year on All Saints’ Day the graveyards all over Lithuania transform into a mystical glowing burial ground filled with thousands and thousands of flickering candles.
It’s a spectacular sight to behold, whatever you believe!
Do you celebrate All Saints’ Day? Where in the world? Let us know in the comments below…