All Saints Day and All Souls Day in Eastern Europe: Not Quite Halloween

All Saints Day, which falls on November 1, is also known as All Hallows’ Day, Hallowmas, the Feast of All Saints, or Solemnity of All Saints. (Because All Hallow’s Eve begins the celebration of this Christian holiday, that is why Halloween, the shortened version of All Hallow’s Eve is celebrated on October 31).

This day, along with All Souls Day, which is marked on November 2, is observed by followers of Western Christianity, including Roman Catholics, in Eastern Europe, with many countries observing the November 1 holiday officially or unofficially. While some countries combine both holidays into one day, others also have November 2 off.

However, these days are not for dressing up in Halloween costumes. Rather, this holiday is a solemn day to remember the deceased, gather with family members, and pay respects at cemeteries.

So, what do people of the countries of Eastern Europe do for these days, and what should you expect if you visit one of these countries on All Saints Day or All Souls Day?

Candle for All Saints Day

All Saints Day Traditions in Eastern Europe

The most obvious part of All Saints Day and All Souls Day in Eastern Europe is the practice of families visiting the graves of deceased loved ones. Often, this means people traveling back to hometowns and ancestral villages to small cemeteries in the countryside where relatives are buried.

First people clean the graves of family members. Then, the surviving family members and friends of the deceased may gather together on the evening of November 1 and leave candles at the graves to burn through the night. Candles made for this purpose, which become more widely available prior to All Saints Day, are encased in glass and come complete with a cover that lets in the oxygen but prevents fall leaves or rain extinguishing the candles. The candles are poured deep into their glass jars so that if they tip over, they do not risk setting a larger fire.

This night is a solemn, beautiful evening and serious rather than truly sad. Surviving family members gather to speak about those that have died or do their remembering silently with only candles and prayers. Those that are not buried in the country are also remembered—for example, people who were deported to and died in Siberia.

Cemeteries, particularly those where national heroes or historical figures are interred, are especially bright this night, as thousands of candles flicker gently in the darkness and create an otherworldly feeling. It was traditionally believed that the world of the living and the world of the dead are closest during this time of year, so the atmosphere created with the burning of candles in the dark around gravestones is one of mystery and spirituality.


What to Know as a Visitor During All Saints Day

  •         The first thing you should note is that All Saints Day may be a day off or public holiday. That means shops and public institutions are likely to be closed. If your travel to Eastern Europe coincides with this day, plan outdoor activities, such as a self-guided walking tour, that can be enjoyed despite the public holiday.
  •         You should also note that, while some people in the countries of Eastern Europe enjoy the Western version of Halloween and the costumes and decorations that are integral to Halloween, such displays are an adoption or reflection of American culture and not a part of the countries’ traditional ways of observing this time of year. Some shops use spiderwebs and ghostly silhouettes to reflect a Halloween theme and use lights and carved pumpkins to grab customers’ attention, and day for wearing costumes and collecting candy may be organized for children. But these practices have come into trend only recently and are not recognized as a part of national culture.
  •         Don’t be afraid to bring a candle of your own and light it on a grave that has been neglected. These candles can be cheaply acquired in supermarkets and allow you to contribute to the meaning of the evening as well as remember your own deceased loved ones while you’re abroad.
  •        Though many countries of Eastern Europe officially identify themselves as Christian, they—and the people living there—ascribe to various levels of Christianity, which is made even more nuanced by the lasting effects of the Soviet and Communist era of the last century. Christianity was out of favor or outlawed during this period, and the religious element of holidays was oftentimes removed or replaced with meaning important to Communist messaging. While people still honored the dead by going to graves and memorials for All Saints Day, in some cases it was forbidden to lay candles and flowers by the graves of figures not associated with Soviet history and ideology. Partially as a result of the Communist era, you’ll find many atheists in Eastern Europe as well as people who identify as Christian in name only—of course, along with those who proudly associate with their religion of choice and have integrated the related practices and belief systems fully into their life. However, All Saints Day rituals are such an important cultural tradition that people participate no matter how they believe.
  •         Of course, like many Christian holidays, the way people celebrate All Saints Day and All Souls Day have their origins in traditional beliefs, some dating back to pagan times.  Some of these old beliefs continue to be practiced, such as baking bread for the dead, placing food by the graves, opening the windows of the house to provide access to visiting spirits, and lighting candles to help guide the spirits back to their graves.
  •         Churches may hold a special service for this holiday and people may attend mass or visit churches on their own to pray for the souls of the departed.
  •         The weather on November 1 is likely to be at least chilly, particularly in the northern countries of Eastern Europe, if not downright cold, rainy, or even snowy. If you plan to take an evening to stroll through a cemetery for All Saints Day, do dress for the weather!
  •         If you are driving, note that roads will be congested during this holiday period due to people visiting ancestral gravesites, which are often in villages in the countryside.
  •         Eastern Orthodoxy celebrates All Saints Day according to a different liturgical calendar, on the first Sunday after Pentacost.


All Saints Day and All Souls Day in Eastern Europe

Czech Republic

The official Czech name for All Saints Day is Památka zesnulých dušičky (“little souls”) or všech svatých (“of all saints”), and the Czechs combine both All Saints and All Souls days—however, it is not a day off in the Czech Republic, so many people go to cemeteries on the weekend closest to the holiday.

If in Prague, visit the biggest graveyard there, Olsany Cemetery (Olsanske hrbitovy in Czech).



Croatians call All Saints Day Dan svih svetih and have a day off on this day; after visiting the graves of relatives, they traditionally have dinner together. Zagreb’s largest cemetery, Mirogoj, is the place to be on this day.



In Hungary, various old traditions and belief systems are still loosely connected with All Saints Day, with some people lighting candles around their houses for the visiting departed as well as laying candles and flowers by gravesites. Chrysanthemums are the favorite flowers for this day.

If you are in Budapest during All Saints Day, which is a public holiday in Hungary, locals recommend checking out the following cemeteries:

  •         Kerepesi Cemetery
  •        Farkasréti Cemetery



Lithuanians refer to All Souls Day as Vėlinės in Lithuania. Both November 1 and November 2 are holidays in Lithuania. Visit the following cemeteries in Vilnius if you’re in town for All Saints Day:

  •         Rasos Cemetery
  •         Antakalnis Cemetery
  •         Bernadiniai Cemetery



The Poles call All Saints Day Wszystkich Swietych—or  Dzień Zmarłych/Święto Zmarłych (which mean Day of the Dead, a secularization of the holiday’s name) and have a day off on this day. All Souls’ Day in Polish is Zaduszki or Dzień Zaduszny). Traditionally, people in Poland would bake special small loaves of bread called powałki or heretyczki in order to feed the souls connecting with the world on the living during this time of year. All Souls Day is referred to as  Dzień Zaduszny or simply zaduszki. If you’re in Poland during this holiday, visit the following cemeteries:

  •         Cmentarz Powązkowski in Warsaw
  •         Cmentarz Rakowicki in Krakow



In Romania, the day is called ziua tuturor Sfinților and is a national holiday.



In Slovenia, in addition to family members visiting gravesites, public officials visit war memorials and the sites of mass killings during war. The Žale Cemetery in Ljubljana is a good place to go to see people observing All Saints Day in Slovenia.

It is also worth noting that October 31 has special significance for Slovenia. No, this day is not a celebration of Halloween but is called Remembrance Day, which is the day Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to a church door in Germany and began a religious movement affecting large swathes of the European population. Both October 31 and November 1 are public holidays in Slovenia.


When to Visit a Cemetery on All Saints Day in Eastern Europe

The best time to visit a cemetery is right before sunset so that you can watch as darkness falls and the groups of candles create gently glowing bright points in the night. Take a stroll through the cemetery to look at the graves and pay your own quiet respects. You may encounter names familiar to you from reading about the country’s history or its literature; these graves often have the most candles and the light from them will be enough to read the name on the tombstone even after all sunlight has faded.