Zaduszki (also dzień zaduszny) is a Polish tradition of lighting candles (znicze) and visiting the graves of the relatives on All Souls Day. Its origins can be traced to the times of Slavic mythology. The tradition of lighting candles comes from ancient slavic Dziady feast and originally was taking place on All Souls' Day.
Dziady was an ancient Slavic feast to commemorate the dead. Literally, the word is translated as "Grandfathers". It was held twice every year (in the spring and autumn). During the feast the ancient Slavs organized libations and ritual meals. In local mythologies such feasts were organized both for the living and for the souls of the forefathers who joined the dziady after dark. In Poland, the tradition prevailed in the form of Christian Zaduszki feast.
However, due to later common misunderstandings, it is performed nowadays mainly on All Saints Day, but, in that case is not called Zaduszki - the word Zaduszki originates from dzień zaduszny which can be translated as the day of the prayer for souls, and thus is more closely related to All Souls' Day.
The first day of November is a holiday in Poland. As many people make journeys to visit the places of burial of their relatives, heavy traffic develops and accident statistics peak. Most commercial activity also ceases. Streets are filled with silent and solemn crowds, and cemeteries glow with thousands of candles, presenting a unique and picturesque scene.
In Poland, Dzień Zaduszny constitutes one of the most important holidays (after Christmas - Boże Narodzenie and Easter - Wielkanoc). It is commemorated by praying for and remembering deceased family and friends, visiting graves, and placing flowers (usually chrysanthemums) and candles (called znicze) on grave sites and memorials. Religious Poles mark this day by going to church and bringing wypominki¸ a list of deceased family members and friends to be read from the altar during mass.
It is important to note that cemeteries and memorials are an important aspect of Polish culture throughout the year. Grave sites are most often cared for and maintained by family members and friends. Throughout Poland you will also see monuments and plaques commemorating those killed during World War II.
Dzień Wszystkich Swiętych and Zaduszki no longer have a solely religious character in contemporary Poland and provide the opportunity to visit with extended family. A state holiday (and therefore a day off from work and school), November 1st has become the most travelled day in Poland. Poles will travel across the country (and even from overseas) to visit family graves. It can even be difficult to purchase train and bus tickets the day before and for a few days after the holiday. The traditions of All Saints Day are deeply rooted in Polish culture; so much so, that in 1995 only 2% of Poles did not plan to visit a cemetery on November 1st.