Lighting the Way Home


Poznan, Poland – November 1, 2007

Reality is chiaroscuro. Darkness and light. Except for valiant efforts on the part of some shops and drinking establishments, Halloween passes unacknowledged in Poland. It is a pagan holiday, a celebration of shadows. November 1st, Wszystkich Świętych or All Saint’s Day, is a day of light. A time to remember those who have passed on.

The old cemetery is already lit up by the time I arrive. People mill about in silence. A painting of the Blessed Mother reigns over a pyre of flickering votive candles.


November is a brutal month in Poland. Night falls in the late afternoon, and even during the day, the world is obscured by a thick shroud of fog. The vapor penetrates deep into the bones and the mind. Every gesture, every thought, is burdensome. One instinctively withdraws into oneself.

I stroll down the lanes of the departed. Everyone, even the untended and overgrown, has at least one flame. No one is forgotten. I breathe in the smell of melted wax, deceased leaves, and chrysanthemums, a green and dusty smell, like the ashes of blossoms.


The flames are so strong that the fog has been forced to retreat. Tendrils hover in the shadows like bashful specters.

It is the cozy heat of hearth and home. For eternity.



40 thoughts on “Lighting the Way Home

  1. the eternal flame, the love that is stored in your heart, your pictures really light my fire, and at this time of year when so many are living in darkness, thanks, and may god be with you always, amen, love shines from your page by the way

  2. Reblogueó esto en GRANO ROJOy comentado:
    Voy camino a casa, me empujan las luces y en mi mente hierben las palabras, arriba en el alar me vigilan los duendes y las brujas para una noche de aquelarre, en la calle otras brujas más sensuales me invitan desde su portón a entrar a un rato de placer por unos pesos. Un portón con escaleras de pesadilla, a una de ellas la sigue un borracho, otra está de la mano con un jubilado recién viudo. Vienen por la calle niños disfrazados con cara de felicidad y una mujer con sonrisa de otra parte, Gente y más gente, lluvia, mi camino es de intemperie y soledad, se me acerca un personaje despreciable y peligroso, dicen, fuma mariguana y pule versos que recita a los músicos del bar El Páramo. Peligroso porque no se baña nunca, despreciable porque muchas mujeres aman sus conversaciones.
    Sigo mi ruta y me tropiezo con este bloguero por La Vagabonde bajo de Europa, Polonia..

  3. Pingback: Lighting the Way Home | GRANO ROJO

  4. Beautifully said: “Reality is chiaroscuro. Darkness and light.” Got goosebumps on those words. Reminds me of Rabindranath Tagore’s quote on death vs life.:

    “Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.”

    • A beautiful beautiful quote. Many people that I speak to in this part of Europe say this this holiday is like Christmas, because of the warmth and light and family. Halloween is chasing away the evil spirits, All Saint’s is embracing those who are missed. i love both holidays.

      They celebrate All Saint’s the same way here in Slovakia, so, in spite of my bad head cold, I’m going to bundle up and go out this evening with my much-improved camera. 🙂

          • I did!!! I did!!! BTW, I really like your concept for the Slovakia blog. I have found that we are using visual more and more to construct thoughts, ideas and then project them to others without the use of words. It is a way of escaping the dynamics of language – almost a short-cut. Anyway, it has been on my mind for several months. Thank you!!!!

          • Thanks! I admit that I’m not as motivated to do my Slovakia blog as I was for my old Budapest blog. It’s not that Slovakia is less interesting…in fact I think it’s more fascinating, because not many people know about it. I’m just really focused on this (WIWH) blog and writing my memoir. That’s why I made it (Slovakia blog) as minimalist as possible…even to the point of disabling comments. I’m really glad you like it. 🙂

          • 🙂 You have given me an idea for another blog that I want to set up. Next year, I want to go back to Scotland for a specific reason – Piobaireachd. This is the ancient bagpipe laments that very few know about, including me! Before we go, I want to have some sort of foundation of knowledge. Not certain how I want to approach the study, but as always, a way will come…

            All the very best on WIWH! You have embraced a huge undertaking..a worthy endeavour.

    • Thank you! They were taken with an early generation DLSR, so the quality is not very good, but at least you can see a little of the ambiance. I was also happy to see that everyone was remembered.

  5. magnifique images et un beau post lumineaux, comme toi… 🙂 eh oui, hier la Toussaint=la fêtes de tous les saints et today, le jour de ceux partis dans une autre dimension, RIP.
    – – –
    Stay healthy and “cool”, good luck in all your endeavours and friendly hugs… Have a formidable November & à+! 🙂 Mélanie

  6. Thank you for sharing such an evocative moment which flooded back so many memories of my three years living in Poland. I remember the first time I experienced Wszystkich Świętych and it remains one of the most profound experiences of my life and certainly of my life in Poland. While other Catholic countries and regions of the world observe All Saints Day, what I saw in Powązki Cemetery (and the adjoining Okopowa Jewish Cemetery) is something I will never forget. Almost as moving was the fact that for days, families were going to/from the cemeteries, maintaining and cleaning them for November 1st. It’s almost impossible, however, no matter how good the camera, to capture the atmosphere of walking through such a massive cemetery, at night, lit only by thousands of flickering candles. At the same time, almost as many people are walking in revered silence and paying respect not only to their own families but to heroes, patriots, and strangers. It is a magical event that can’t help but touch anyone who is fortunate enough to experience it. Thank you …

    • Hi Dale, so glad I could bring back such a rich memory. It is indeed a magical and unforgettable feeling. This year, I went to a cemetery in Bratislava, Slovakia. It was a much larger and newer cemetery than that in Poznan, but the magic was still present. There’s nothing like it.

      I couldn’t help but feel really sad that there’s no such holiday in the US and probably will never be, because people see it as a religious holiday. One doesn’t need to be religious to remember loved ones, and others, who have passed on and celebrate their memory.

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience. –Julie

  7. it’s strange, cause it’s a pagan feast, but still with all those candles and light there is a sacred atmosphere, something that warms up the heart..beautiful

  8. Wow! I did not know they celebrate like Mexico, in Mexico is two days Nov. 1st and Nov 2nd. For us, we have to go to cemetery and light candles, but we take them food and all kinds of things, we also build an altar in the house; I did one for my dad this year. In Mexico is not all about the catholic or religion, is more a way of seeing death, a happy thing, a celebration for the death, the Aztecs started it all, so is an Aztec holiday. This is so interesting, love the pictures and the story is very good like always.

    • That’s really interesting that it’s originally an Aztec holiday. I had no idea. Death is something that happens to all of us. We can either avoid the subject or accept it.

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  10. Beautiful; really does feel like the cozy heat of hearth and home. I do wish our cemeteries were loved like this at least once a year. They often seem so forlorn and forgotten.

    • Exactly. I was just talking to my mother about this. In the US, people rarely even visit the departed. I’ve experienced this beautiful holiday for several years in Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia. Now I participate by doing my own memorial at the cemeteries. No one I know is buried there, but I light candles at the shrines anyway.

  11. Pingback: The Comfort of Mortality | Wish I Were Here

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