Personally, I’m not a big fan of Halloween. I liked it when I was seven or eight years old and it meant lots of free candy, but as I’m too old to go trick-or-treating and don’t even want to eat that much candy, it’s not a “holiday” I get excited about anymore. That being said, Halloween is not commonly celebrated in Slovakia, and I wasn’t the slightest disappointed to miss it this year. (Okay, okay, the costume part is kind of fun, but it’s not like anyone needs Halloween to dress up).
It turns out that Halloween isn’t the only holiday celebrated on October 31st though. Raised Baptist, the little I know about the Reformation is what I learned in history in school, but among Lutheran churches (perhaps particularly among European Lutheran churches), Reformation Day is still celebrated each year on October 31st. (This is the day that Martin Luther is said to have nailed his 95 Theses for church reformation to the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517). So yesterday, instead of donning some sort of costume and heading to a party, I went to an evening church service with my friends Miska and Milotka. The service was similar to a Sunday morning service in a Slovak Lutheran church and quite beautiful. Although I often miss the praise bands and simple services that I’m used to, there is something about liturgy and ancient hymns that reflects the beauty and holiness of God in a much more profound way.
After the service, the girls introduced me to another holiday I had never experienced before, Pamiatka Zosnulych, or All Souls’ Day. I’m familiar with the name of the holiday (the English name, at least), but I recognize it mainly as words on a calendar, not as an event or something to celebrate. In Slovakia, this is a day to remember deceased family members, and it is often celebrated over several days. As Milotka explained to me, it is similar to “Homecoming in America,” because family members living in different places often travel home to be with their family. Families visit cemeteries where their relatives are buried, and cover the graves in flowers and candles.
Perhaps “graves covered in flowers and candles” doesn’t sound especially spectacular to you, but the reality of what this looks like is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. After the Reformation Day service, Miska, Milotka and I walked to the nearby cemetery. This did feel a little bit like Halloween, but as the idea of a dark, empty cemetery at night sounds terrifying to me, there’s no way I’d usually venture there on Halloween night! However, the cemetery was neither dark nor empty. Can you imagine a cemetery set on a rolling hill full of people, old and young, blanketed in candlelight? I was amazed at how many candles there were, and how beautiful it looked! (I really don’t think of cemeteries as pretty places, but it truly was)! I’ve included a few pictures so you can get idea, but they really don’t capture what it looked like.
I was glad to get to experience this, and it was fun to experience a part of Slovak culture that I’d never seen before. All in all, it was a unique “Halloween.”
*Second photo from http://subory.hnusta.sk/udaje/Objekty/obrazky/2008/cirkev/pamiatka-zosnulych-03.JPG