This year I wanted, for the first time ever, buy a pumpkin and carve it, using up the flesh to make a soup or a stew. I got warned that ‘Halloween’ pumpkins are not that edible and their only purpose is to be made into jack-o’-lanterns, and then discarded. I don’t care much about American Halloween and its silly customs. I am far more interested in the actual Celtic tradition. The Slavs had their own version of Halloween too, where they left food offerings and lights on ancestors graves to warm their souls and help them find their way to the underworld, or Nawia.
I had no luck buying a pumpkin in local supermarkets and initially I thought that in our present Orwellian reality there were simply unavailable to stop people from celebrating Halloween. It turnes out, they were being sold over a week ago. I will bear that in mind next year. Shame, because I wanted a nice decoration for tonight’s Messenger Room catch-up with the girls. No Jack-o’lantern for me…
In Poland these ancient pagan traditions were hijacked by the Catholic Church and as such the celebration of the dead became All Saints Day and Souls Day. To this day it is compulsory to visit cementaries and place abundant flowers and lanterns on graves, and the more lavish it all looks, the better. As a teenager I hated being dragged to the graves on the 1st of November and having to spend entire day in freezing cold pulling out weeds and removing dead leaves so that the grave would look respectable. I didn’t see the point of it… after all, the dead are, well, dead enough so why would they give a damn about visitors, flowers and candles ? Why waste a day pottering about at my grandfather’s grave when I never met him, as he had died before I was born ?
It was and still is very much frowned upon in Poland when someone neglects this whole grave business. Before and during All Hallows Eve and a few days after the country is paralised with road traffic. People travel for hundreds of miles to vist cemetaries where their relatives or friends happen to be buried. Florists and candle sellers make more money in these couple of days than they make in a year. This time, however, is different. In their infinite wisdom the government made a last minute decision to close all cemetaries to visitors, due to Covid. As anyone with two brain cells could have predicted, it only caused a mad rush as everyone flocked to the graves while they still could. At the same time, tens of thousands of disgruntled citizens have been peacefully protesting on the streets against the recently amended draconian anti-abortion law. Perhaps the state wants to utilise the policy and army to seize control of the Women’s Strike, as it is now globally known, and they don’t have enough manpower to do both this and patrol the busy roads. Either that, or they’re simply dumb.
So, effectively, All Saints Day and Souls Day in Poland are cancelled in 2020. Halloween is very unwelcome, being anti Christian and all that. I watch the situation from afar, joining the protesters not in body, but in spirit and planning my own little Samhain evening. I don’t really miss anyone from the other side, and I don’t have any desire to communicate with ghosts. That said, I have a peculiar feeling when I think of my maternal Grandfather who died in the 70s, as if he was somewhere out there and his thoughts and feelings towards me were warm and friendly. I haven’t visited his grave in over 15 years. I will light a candle tonight instead.