WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poles honored their dead on Tuesday, All Saints' Day, turning graveyards into seas of flickering candles and whispering prayers to the souls of their departed ancestors.
Observing one of the most sacred days on the calendar for this deeply Catholic nation, people solemnly filled cemeteries across the country, the numbers diminished this year only somewhat by an autumn rain that fell on Warsaw and elsewhere.
For many, Tuesday was the culmination of a four-day weekend devoted to returning to hometowns to clean tombstones and then adorn them with candles and fresh flowers.
Those far from the resting places of loved ones paid their respects to the dead, too, visiting the burial sites of famous war heroes like Jozef Pilsudski and the graves of the countless fallen soldiers killed in the wars and the uprisings of the past — sacrifices long-remembered by a patriotic people with a turbulent history.
Grazyna Blajer, a 56-year-old teacher, paid her respects in an old section of Powazki, Warsaw's best-known cemetery, which has tombstones dating back centuries. A new arrival in Warsaw, she has no family graves there, so she looked for neglected graves without candles or flowers and left fresh tributes of her own.
"I felt the duty and the need to be here today," Blajer said, speaking as dusk approached.
President Andrzej Duda visited the Wawel Cathedral in Krakow to honor the late President Lech Kaczynski and his wife, Maria Kaczynska, who died together in a plane crash in Russia in 2010.
"On All Saints' Day, we Poles visit the graves of our loved ones, our friends, those whom we consider important in our lives," Duda said. "I think it's natural that I am here today."
At least 16 European countries with a strong Catholic identity or history observe Nov. 1 as an official holiday that closes offices and schools, including Spain, Lithuania, Belgium, Austria and France.
Members of older generations in those countries still make graveyard visits in memory of cherished souls, but few nations commemorate the day with the devotion of Poland.
The day is so engrained in the culture that people even visit Jewish cemeteries, a sign of how entwined the two faiths became over centuries of co-existence. Members of Poland's tiny Roma minority enacted a tradition of their own, drinking vodka at gravesites.
A nation of animal lovers, some Poles on Tuesday remembered the cats and dogs that they loved and lost at a pet cemetery in Warsaw.
All Saints' Day, also known as All Hallows' Day, shares its origins with Halloween — a foreign custom in Poland that has grown in popularity in recent years.
Some conservative Poles resent this import, fearing its spooky playfulness — and what they suspect is dabbling in the occult — could damage Poland's own truly hallowed tradition that is observed, religiously, each year on November 1.
Alik Keplicz in Warsaw and Marisol Medina in Madrid contributed reporting.