All Saints Day, also known as All Hallows, Day of All the Saints, is one of my favorite Catholic holidays to experience in Eastern Europe. Walk past any cemetery in many eastern, central, and southern European countries around Halloween and you’re bound to see an “otherworldly glow.”
November 1 actually is linked to the pre-Christian beliefs that around this time of year, the souls of the dead relatives returned to earth. Today, thousands make an annual pilgrimage to visit ancestors’ graves. In fact in Poland, which is still 91% Catholic, it is the most well-traveled holiday of the year – even more so than Christmas.
I took the opportunity this All Souls Day to visit one of Split’s largest cemeteries, Lovrinac, which was built in 1928 after the city’s main burial site in the peninsula of Sustipan became overcrowded. The site itself sits high on a plateau overlooking the Adriatic to the north and sprawling hills to the south. Inside, the cemetery is shaded by tall cypress trees. Crepe myrtles and rose bushes provide brilliant pops of color.
I watched as hundreds of families gathered to clean their loved ones graves, replace dead foliage with fresh flowers, and exchange old stone with fresh white gravel. I was hard pressed to find a grave that wasn’t totally covered in flowers or candles.
Fun fact: the tradition of lighting little lamps on the graves of relatives comes from the pagan ritual of lighting bonfires on burial places, as it was believed it kept the lost souls warm. If you’re in Europe this All Souls Day, I highly recommend finding a local cemetery to take in the sights of this beautiful tradition!