As is my usual habit as a blogger, several months have passed since I last posted anything but I could not let this one pass me by.
On the 1st of November, many nations across the world celebrate All Saints Day, among them, my new home Poland has a national holiday and the occasion is one of National momentum.
With the exception of the main roads between cities as relatives travel to distant graves and the local streets around any cemetery, the rest of the streets are deserted. Shops are closed and what seems like the entire population of Poland can be found filling cemeteries to bursting point as crowds of people queue, jostle and shuffle their way through the gates of their chosen necropolis.
Signs are erected across the city directing travelers to the different cemeteries around the city. Special buses and trams are laid on and streets surrounding each cemetery are transformed into car parks manned by eager members of the Scout movement directing drivers to free spaces and collecting fees to spend on candles and flowers for neglected and unattended graves that they will later tidy and tend to.
This was the first year I was able to witness this first-hand having previously been teaching in Turkey at this point in the year. So it was with a sense of real occasion this year that along with my Wife, Mother in-law, Brother in-law and Sister in-law that I made the pilgrimage to the final resting place of hundreds of Poles to lay flowers and light candle lanterns in their memory. It was particularly poignant this year given that my Wife's uncle had been laid to rest in the cemetery we visited only a couple of weeks previously.
The sight that met my eyes when we arrived however, I could never have imagined. Thousands of people filled the cemetery to capacity laying flowers and lighting candles at not only the graves of their own loved ones but those of famous people, celebrities, authors, poets, academics, sportsmen and women and at memorials to events such as the Smolensk plane crash that claimed the lives of 96 passengers and crew among them the President of Poland and his Wife as well as many senior politicians and heads of the armed forces.
There is a tradition that says that no grave shall left without recognition so it is common for those who are cleaning and decorating the grave of their relatives to also lend a little care to neglected and unattended graves of their neighbours and lighting a candle in memorium
If the daytime had amazed me, then the night time blew me away completely. Darkness brings out the true beauty of the candle lanterns that adorn every grave in the cemetery. People move among the graves putting candles on those that have none and those that they wish to honour. The graves of many of Poland's famous or celebrated are often so covered that candles cover half of the walkways around and the heat from hundreds of candles wards off the chill of the November night.
The smell is one I will always remember. Thousands and thousands of candles burning has a unique scent and their collective glow lights even the darkest corners.
I feel honourd to have been part of this annual event and I know that next year I too will be amongst those seeking out the grave of those famous Poles i would like to honour as well as wandering to quiet deserted corners to light a candle in memory of someone I do not know, have never met yet feel the need to let them know that they are remembered. I will seek out the resting place of soldiers who died too young to have known anything of a life well lived and I will re-light candles on graves whose flame ha been snatched away by the wind.
At some point late in the evening, I will let go of my wife's hand and with a candle lantern firmly in my grasp, slip un-noticed into a dark corner. I will kneel at an unattended neglected grave and clear a place in the fallen leaves to stand my candle and there I will light it and pray to the memory of those in my family that are no longer with us and especially I will remember my Mum.