Living in a predominantly Catholic country like Poland, one cannot miss the annual All Saints Day and All Souls Day which falls on the 1st and 2nd November respectively. I grew up in a Catholic household, and we would go for Mass on these days, in honour of the dead and we would visit the graves of the deceased to say a prayer. Also, it is not common sight, back in India for the whole family to go visit the grave sites.

The first time I visited the cemetery on All Saints Day (Dzień Wszystkich Świętych) in Poland, I was blown away. The sea of candles lighting up the night was truly magical. It is a sight to behold. Lanterns in all shapes and sizes, especially the colours reverberate with the fall season. I keep visiting the cemetery here in Krakow every year, to light a candle in memory of my mom and I make it a point to light it on an unmarked grave and send a prayer to her and the person lying there.

As per Catholicism, the celebration begins with All Hallows Eve, then All Saints Day and finally All Souls Day is also known as Tridum. Therefore, it is common to find people visiting graves on all the three days (October 31-November 2). The 1st of November however, is a national holiday in many historically Catholic countries, as many people make journeys to visit the burial places of their relatives. Cities in Poland set up special bus lines which travel between traffic hubs and cemeteries. You might have noticed that supermarkets have already started to stock up on the candles or as it’s called in Polish ‘Znicze’. I was curious to know where this tradition originated and at the same time, I wanted to know where the modern-day tradition of candle lighting came from.

Enchanting History

In the early years, Christians had a tradition to worship martyrs, but gradually as the number of martyrs outgrew the number of days in a year, it was decided around A.D. 610 to hold just one day to honour all of them. In the beginning, it was observed in Springtime, on the 1st of May, until 835 but about 200 years later, it was moved to coincide with the Celtic tradition of Samhain, which took place in Autumn.

The history of candle lighting probably came from “Samhain” which was celebrated towards the end of the harvest season and beginning of winter. Huge bonfires were lit which suggested that the fires were a kind of imitative magic – they mimicked the Sun, helping the “powers of growth”, holding back the decay and darkness of winter. They may also have served to symbolically “burn up and destroy all harmful influences”. Accounts from the 18th and 19th centuries suggest that the fires (as well as their smoke and ashes) were deemed to have protective and cleansing powers.

Dziady, is an ancient Slavic feast, to commemorate the dead and the word translates to “Grandfathers.” Lighting candles at the grave is mainly a Polish tradition, but also followed in countries like Ukraine, Lithuania, Serbia, Belarus, etc. In Poland, this tradition survived in the form of a Christian feast Dzien Zaduszny which means All Soul’s Day. The word Zaduszki originates from dzien zaduszny, which can be translated as the day of the prayer for souls, and thus is more closely related to All Souls’ Day. It was believed that in the autumn season, the spirits of the deceased relatives would visit their old homes. The ritual of Zaduszki began with people tiding the graves of relatives, decorating them with flowers, lighting candles and ended with the priest blessing the graves. Women would bake bread and give them to the poor, in hopes that it would bring them good fortune. In some cases, people brought food like honey, kutia, eggs and vodka to the cemetery to spend time with the dead and get their graces. This seems quite similar to the Mexican celebration of Dia De Los Muertos.

Znicze Sources

As I mentioned earlier, supermarkets are already selling Znicze (candles). There are the basic candles and lanterns in a myriad of colors and there are even some high-tech ones which also have a melody in them and are battery operated. It is a booming industry that employs around 100,000 employees (more than that in coal mining industry). There is an Association of Znicze Producers in Poland (http://www.ospsiz.pl/) and a European Association as well (AECM-Association European Candle Makers). Poland has some of the world’s largest manufactures of candles- Polwax, Korona Candles, and KCB Candle Company.

KCB Interlight- Founded in 1892, initially the company produced beeswax candles, gradually expanding its product range. It is the largest manufacturer in the candle industry in Poland, with an export product index never below 90%. It was founded by Walenty Noga, in the town of Gniewkowo. The candles produced here were made “strictly according to church regulations and only from pure beeswax.” During the interwar period, W. Noga and Company also produced Christmas tree candles, grave candles, incense, oils, as well as floor and shoe polish. However, until the outbreak of WW II, the factory was focused mainly on the fulfillment of church orders. Post WWII, the company started to develop rapidly. In the sixties, the first candles from Gniewkowo made their way to foreign markets, including far away countries such as Lebanon, Libya, and Ethiopia. In 1989, the “Wax and Chemicals” Worker Cooperative, together with a foreign investor, established a new joint venture called “Interlight”.

Korona Candles – the biggest producer of candles in Europe and is also considered as one of the largest modern candle manufacturers in the world. Founded in 1992 by Krzysztof Jablonski, the company has grown from its humble beginnings of a small production hall with a handful of people, in the town of Wieluń in the Łódź Voivodeship. In 2014, KORONA Candles, Inc., to strengthen its position in the marketplace, had launched a manufacturing facility in the United States, located in Dublin, Pulaski County, Virginia. At present, the daily production reaches 11 million candles a day and their candles, especially the scented ones are sold at for IKEA, Tesco, Lidl, Wal-Mart. Needless to say, I always stock up on the scented candles from Ikea, whenever I get the chance.

Polwax- Polwax launched its activity in January 2012 and quickly grew to become one of the largest leading producers and distributors of refined and deodorized paraffin, waxes and specialty industrial paraffin compositions. Dominik Tomczyk, the owner of Polwax, signed a contract with Jeronimo Martins Polska (the owner of Biedronka) in 2015, for the delivery of Znicze, becoming one of the biggest producers of znicze. The company started to supply in 2016, candle products produced under the JMP brand. The company joined the Warsaw Stock Exchange(WSE)- Polish Giełda Papierów Wartościowych w Warszawie(GPW), with a yearly net income of over 20 million zloty.

I like this Polish tradition, and for sure will be visiting the cemetery again this year to say a prayer for those that have gone before us. In relation to this topic, I have written a separate article about Candle Care over at my blog, and you can read all about it here.

What do you think about this tradition? Do you follow similar customs back home where you come from?

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