Every country has national holidays, many of them commemorating a special event in the nation’s history. Traveling internationally exposes me to many local holidays and I learn something new about the country I am visiting each time one comes around.
Some countries celebrate some of the same holidays but with a different twist. Halloween, for instance, a hugh commercial event for America, is only given a nod by some countries. In Poland, for instance, Halloween is observed for the children, but the real celebration is the next day: All Saints Day or the Day of the Dead.
Although All Saints Day is officially only one day, it usually lasts for several days. It is common for Polish people to take off work for a day if All Saints Day falls close to a weekend. All Saints Day in 2011 fell on a Tuesday. Many families left work Friday afternoon (so many that the congestion on the roads leaving Warsaw resulted in many automobile accidents) to travel long distances to visit with families, took the following Monday off from work, and returned home on Tuesday evening.
In most European countries, cemeteries are more than resting places for the dead. Beautifully maintained by family members (not by cemetery staff), none of the graves are overgrown or neglected. Especially during All Saints Day, when people visit cemeteries to clean grave sites of loved ones and place flowers and candles on them, many people will wander through the cemetery to look for graves which have not been cleaned. Even if they do not know the family of these deceased, they will tend to the grave and put a candle on it.
I have visited a cemetery on All Saints Day with Polish friends. The beauty of the cemetery nearly took my breath away. There are so many flowers on the graves that it is more like a garden than a cemetery. At night, the glow from candles in glass containers of various colors (thousands in the larger cemeteries) accentuate the beauty of the stone grave markers and the flowers on top of them. The cemeteries are so full of people you can hardly walk. Graves of national heroes are easily identifiable as people put extra flowers and candles around them – so many that it is hard to see the grave stone.
America is the only country I know of that works its retail people harder during a holiday. In other countries, when it’s time for a holiday, everything closes down. That literally means that if you are out of milk and bread on a holiday, too bad. You must wait until the next day. Although I learned this lesson the hard way and still gets surprised sometimes by a holiday I was not aware of, I very heartily approve of this system. Owners and employees of businesses have the day off just like everyone else. A holiday is a holiday for everyone.
In many countries I travel in, the same is true for Sunday. Unfortunately, this is changing in some places, but most of the time, Sunday is a day of rest. Families get together, go for walks together, and celebrate life. Although many that observe Sunday as a day of rest don’t do it for the same reason I do (God said so), they understand the value of a special day set aside for leisure, not work.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work; you, nor your son, nor your daughter, or your male servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it (Exodus 20:8-11).