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Halloween in Europe: Visiting Your Ancestors’ Graves!

Halloween in Europe: Visiting Your Ancestors’ Graves!

October 22, 2020

Halloween in Europe? Do Europeans celebrate Halloween? The answer is yes and no—it depends who you ask! Halloween brings to mind houses with spooky decorations, carving pumpkins, and trick-or-treating. While the American Halloween traditions are slowly but surely being embraced in much of Europe, especially in the last decade, the prevalent activity during this time of year in Europe is visiting family graves.

In countries such as France, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, and Austria, people clean the gravesites of their deceased loved ones and adorn them with rich bouquets of flowers, decorative wreaths, and lit candles. This practice is typically observed from the last week of October through the first week of November.

The first day of November is called All Saints Day, and the day and night before (what is called Halloween in the U.S.) is All Hallows’ Day and All Hallows’ Eve. In France, All Saints Day is known as Toussaint (a contraction of Tous les Saints), and in Germany it’s called Allerheiligen. This day is a holiday in many countries. The second day of November is All Souls Day, or Remembrance of the Deceased. Both of these days may be arguably the busiest traveling times of the year.

It is not uncommon for people to travel all over the country if their relatives are buried in various localities. People not only visit their deceased relatives’ gravesites, but also take the opportunity to visit family that may live nearby and whom they don’t see often. Because of the traveling and family aspects, this might be more comparable to Thanksgiving in the U.S.

I remember the feel of the cool crispy air as I traveled and visited the graves of my father’s and mother’s families in Czech Republic and Slovakia. Some years, we were greeted with light snow or freezing rain. It was not uncommon to meet other relatives at the cemetery. All the graves looked very festive with fresh flowers and new decorations glowing in the light of candles.

It’s not only the look—the evening lights of the cemeteries, which may be seen from far away, almost creating the illusion of lit up city skylines—but also the aroma, the smell of the burning candles, chrysanthemums (mums), and other flowers. It all comes together to create a truly unique atmosphere!

If you keep a similar tradition here in the U.S., let us know in the comments! It would be interesting to see if anyone’s ancestors brought the tradition along with them from Europe and kept it alive. I plan to visit a local historical cemetery where I live now, and maybe I will see some of you there!

Iveta B.
Midwest Genealogy Center

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