All Saints Day (1st of November) and All Souls Day (2nd of November)

Dr. Birgit Stegbauer

Visits to cemeteries, memorial candles on graves and the blessings of graves are firmly rooted rituals that mark the beginning of the month November. All Saints Day and All Souls Day have little in common with the carnival like celebration of Hallowe'en. On the contrary, November 1st and 2nd are solemn days of remembrance, when the Roman Catholic Church commemorates all its saints and all decedents.

In my native country Bavaria, the families take special care of the family grave in the days prior to the double-feast. They clean it, decorate it with fresh plants or floral arrangements made out of evergreen and dried flowers, fill up the holy water bowls and ignite a memorial candle which is burnt in memory of the deceased family members.

Here in Carinthia however, the custom is to ignite memorial candles not only on the family grave but on the graves of good friends as well. The more popular a deceased person was in his lifetime, and the less time has passed since his funeral, the more candles are ignited in the deceased's memory. Sometimes you'll find a veritable blaze of lights on one particular grave.

Of course, a visit to the cemetery is most atmospheric during the hours of dusk, when the memorial candles begin to shine and send a signal in opposition of the world's darkness. Every city and village has a cemetery you can visit on those days, although the cemetery of Maria Luggau at the Lesachtal, which is well known for its graves with wrought-iron crosses, could be a very special place for such a Momento Mortuorum or commemoration.

Blessing of the graves take place in the early afternoon of the 1st of November; this is when the whole family meets at the cemetery, some family members might have traveled far. After the blessing the families usually gather for refreshments of coffee and cake - after all, in my native country Bavaria, All Saints Days still is a high day for the extended family. In former times, on this occasion a special pastry made out of yeast, called "Allerheiligenstriezel", was given by the godparent to the godchild.

While All Saints Day on November 1st is a public holiday in Austria, All Souls Day is a holiday for students only.