For those familar with the Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations, Austria has a similar tradition, although more somber and less of a party atmosphere! On November 1st All Saints Day ‘Allerheiligen’ in German and November 2nd All Souls Day ‘Allerseelen’ Austrians visit their local cemetery and decorate their relatives’ graves with flowers, wreaths and candles. In the evening it’s a magical and moving atmosphere to stroll around and admire the sea of red candles. The bigger cemeteries will have food trucks to get snacks and warm drinks. Anyone can visit – no buried relatives needed! It’s totally acceptable to just stroll around and admire all the graves and their decorations. You’ll see lots of families so totally fine to bring kids (just don’t lose them in the dark!). Candles burn for up 60 hours so it’s possible to also visit on the 2nd or 3rd too (they are also protected by the rain with special tops).
Don’t be surprised if you are asked for a donation when entering by the Schwarzes Kreuz. They look after the graves of soldiers who died in war and put candles on the war graves. If you enter the main Zentralfriedhof cemetery, be sure to walk all the way to the top left end and see the hundreds of tealights atop of the military lines of simple crosses, it’s a very moving tribute. Another smaller cemetery that is fun to visit is the St Peters one as it’s on a hill so you have a view all the way down over the flickering candles.
“Austrians celebrate All Saints Day, the Catholic holiday in remembrance of the Saint Martyrs, on November 1. All Saints Day in Austria is part of a week known as “Seelenwoche” (All Souls Week) during which the Austrians believe the curtain between the world of the spirits and the living is thinner than normal.
Celebrate All Saints Day with extended family, including the deceased. It is thought that in Austrian villages, the souls of the dead will gather on the eve of All Saints for the “gerstermesse,” or family celebration. In order to help lead their way through the dark, lighted processions of the living move toward the graveyard to leave lanterns at the grave sites.
Listen for church bells beginning at noon on All Saints Day. This begins the hour of “Seelenauslauten,” during which the souls of the dead are released. The Austrian belief is that the departed have a bodily presence and can be anywhere. The bells ring to signal it is time to move beyond the world of the living.
Visit the graves of loved ones, decorating them with candles and flower arrangements. It’s customary to use the flowers of fall, chrysanthemums or marigolds, either in dried arrangements or as a wreath. Though All Saints Day is a national holiday during which schools and stores are closed, public transportation continues to run and even has additional routes to the “gottesackers” (cemeteries)”.
You can also read more about the history and customs on All Saints Day (including the special plaited bread) on Sarah Löckers art blog.