Painting: "L'Absente (The Absent One on All Souls' Day)" detail, by Walter MacEwan (Courtesy of Telfair Academy). Taken from http://savannahnow.com/accent/2009-09-06/art-soul-exhibit-celebrates-walter-macewens-creative-and-technical-achievements
Traditions in catholic and orthodox countries.
Catholic All Souls’ Day
The traditions to visit cemeteries and churches all over Europe spreads also on this day. In fact, all three days, starting from Halloween, are devoted to remembrance of all dead, in particular dead relatives, so all these days more or less share the similar customs, maybe only modern Halloween being a bit different.
All Souls' Day in Czech Republic by Joža Uprka. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. Taken from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jo%C5%BEa_Uprka_-_All_Souls%27_Day.JPG
There are countries, where until now is saved the tradition of baking bread for the dead, so-called “soul cakes”. In Scotland and England these cakes have round shape and spices inside. In Italy there are sweets called “bones of the dead” in Sicily, “bread of the dead” in Lombardy, “beans of the dead” in Emilia–Romagna.
Souls cakes are to be eaten during All Saints’ dinner, while talking about the deceased relatives, praying for them. All the remains of the food are left on the table for the wondering spirits who make a visit in the night. In Ireland before going to bed they put a chair near the fireplace for the spirits. In other places of Europe people left a pitcher of water for the night, to quench the thirst of the souls. In some regions of Italy people left their beds unmade in case the spirits would need to rest.
Special tradition was in several areas of England – the people called “soulers” wandered about with a hobbyhorse, which had the “dead” on its back and was known as “nightmare”.
In Ireland, Wales and Scotland there were “wakes” – the nights of late wakes, or lamentation night, when people performed music, singing or simply moaning over the deceased.
Slavic Dedy, or Soul Saturday
Picture: Dedy, author unknown. Taken from http://bigcomp.kiev.ua/?p=3132
In Slavic orthodox countries there are several dates in the year devoted to the remembrance of the dead. Their names were changed with Christianity, but in colloquial speech “Dedy” is used widely until today. Besides, almost all traditions and beliefs connected with the dead are still surviving in daily life.
Unlike the other Soul Saturdays, on St.Dmitry’s Dedy people don’t go to the cemeteries, but celebrate at home, waiting for the visit of the spirits of the dead.
The special rituals are connected to the memorial dinner. Usually all the family gathered together, even those who lived far away from each other. At the twilight they lit the fire, sat at the table, the master of the house lit a candle and said a prayer. Then he invited all deceased to join them at the table, calling each of them by name. There were extra dishes and spoons on the table, meant for the dead. During the dinner it was forbidden to make rumours, jokes and to use knives or other sharp objects. The food was served hot, so the spirits could breathe the steam of the dishes cooked in their honour.
Usually the odd number of dishes or exactly 12 dishes was cooked, among them the ritual dish “kutia” (a kind of sweet grain pudding), symbolizing by all its components, like grain, berries and honey, an idea of the rebirth through the death. After the dinner people left all drinks and food remains on the table for the night (for the souls), in some areas a part of the kutia remains was carried by children to the houses of the paupers.
Disregard of these traditions was considered great disrespect for Dedy, the custodians of the family, and could cause their discontent and misfortunes.
In Belarus people used to heat the sauna on this day, and after washing they left warm water and clean towels for the souls.