Since earliest times, Belarusians had a sacred relationship with the dead. Dziady is just one of many religious holidays dedicated to the commemoration of ancestors. Preserved in its archaic form only in Belarus, the holiday is unique for Europe.
The holiday that recalls the living the very essence of who we are, where we all came from and where all of us will go in the end.
Definitely not Halloween
As with most important holidays, traditions and rites in Belarus represent a fusion of different customs, such as All Saint’s Day, and autumn’s Dziady.
However, mind you – it is a fusion filtered through its ground and culture, not just a mere and meaningless mixture. The end of October and the beginning of November mark a string of several celebrations.
Yes, we live in a global world and Belarus is not an isolated island. That is why Halloween is quite popular, especially among kids and the youth. Although Halloween has its roots in Celtic pagan tradition it’s completely irreconcilable with the traditional, in many senses also very pagan, understanding of this period.
Belarusians commemorate their ancestors with respect and silent conversation, not by dressing up in scary costumes and roaming the streets. To be honest, in traditional Belarusian culture even cruel pranks would be perceived as inappropriate and rather out of place.
Belarusian Catholics celebrate All Saint’s Day on the 1 of November.
This is the time when their thoughts are with those who are already in a better world. On the eve of the holiday, people visit graveyards in order to clean the tombs of their deceased family members.
In western Belarus where most Belarusian Catholics live, people go to church and cemeteries in order to spend some time with their loved ones.
They lit candles, occasionally leave some sweets for the dead and bring lit candles to the graveyards, the light from which can last even for a few days. Orthodox believers rather celebrate their ancestors in spring, during Radunitsa.
Besides this, Belarus has a unique pagan holiday called Dziady (literally grandfathers), which used to have, like most pagan traditions, a cyclical character, with the two most important culminations in autumn and spring.
Belarus is of the few countries that have a pagan holiday in the official calendar. Celebrated officially on the 2 of November and a day off in the past, it confirms our living attachment to the cult of forefathers.
Eternized by a Belarusian-Polish poet Adam Mickewicz in his famous verse drama (1823), Dziady is one of the most mysterious and beautiful ways of finding peace and union with dead predecessors.
Meeting with the dead
In the past, people believed that during Dziady invisible ancestors came back to our houses in order to eat together with us. Families prepared special supper meals.
Before eating they would circle the table with a candle for three times, open windows and doors and then start calling their ancestors by pronouncing their names.
A spare plate and an empty glass would be left on the table during the whole evening. Later ancestors could be entertained by songs, dances and even masquerades.
In the end, the head of the family would douse the candle and invite the present souls to go back to heaven. The meeting with the dead was peaceful and thoughtful not chilling or evil.
Read also: What Belarusian pagan God are you? – QUIZ
Belarusians did not fear their dead family members, they worshiped their memory. Although masques and mystic rituals were present, the focus and angle of celebration were completely opposite to the one offered by Halloween, and especially by its commercial version.
Text by Vital Voranau.