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All Souls' Day Holidays

Dušičky – Czech All Souls’ Day

November 2 is when the Czech remember their dead. And here’s what happens on this day that is called Dušičky.

Where Dušičky comes from

Dušičky literally means “little souls” although it translates to English as All Souls’ Day. If we want to find the origins of this celebration we have to go back to the times when the Celts lived in Central Europe. They celebrated Samhain in the night from October 31 to November 1. They believed the souls came back to Earth and had to be helped to go back to the underworld. And the Celts helped them by lighting the path with lights in carved beetroots. Moreover, to protect themselves from evil spirits, they put on masks and painted their faces. So for those who wonder – even though the children in Czech Republic don’t go trick or treating like in the US and Halloween is generally not celebrated, this holiday does have a history in this area.

After the Celts came the Slavs and their cultures penetrated. The Slavs adopted Samhain and modified it. In 998, in attempt to christianize the celebrations, the church emphasized the remembering of the dead rather than leading souls back to the underground. This custom originated in France and quickly expanded to many European countries and the Day of the Dead became November 1 in some, November 2 in others.

Currently, November 1 is known in Czech Republic as Svátek všech svatých or All Saints’ Day when all saints are celebrated, not just the canonized ones. November 2 is the All Souls’ Day or Dušičky.

Superstitions at Dušičky

Burning in the purgatory

People used to believe that on this day, the souls come back from the purgatory to rest from the torment. Before the time of electricity, house owners used to change the oil in their lamps for butter so the souls could use it to cure their burns from the purgatory. Some people would throw flour into the fire because they believed it would cool the fire down and ease the pain of the souls. Another way to make the burning more bearable for the souls was to drink milk and spray it on the family members.

In some regions, sharp objects like saws or knives had to be placed blade down. The blades which were facing up made the souls’ suffering double. Another thing that people weren’t supposed to do was to throw eggshells into fire because it made the souls in the purgatory cry. the souls were also believed to suffer inside the bread oven. Therefore, housewives stacked a fresh pile of wood in the oven right after taking out the bread, so the souls could sit on it and not get burnt.

When the church bell rang on November 3 in the morning, the souls had to go back to the purgatory.

Saving souls

However, there were several ways to help the souls on Dušičky. Did you ever say a word at the precise same time like another person? Some time ago, that would be considered a very good thing because it was believed that each time this happened on November 2nd, one soul would be saved. Another way to save a soul was to undo the special rope used to bind the sheaves and burn it or throw it in the dunghill.

Food played an important role on this day, people not only prayed at the table for their late relatives but also left them leftovers from the meal, especially kaše, housky and milk. One of the prayers for the souls went like this:

“Na dušičky pamatujme, z očistce jim pomáhejme!
Budou na nás vzpomínat, až my budem umírat.

V dušičkový večer, rozžehneme svíčky,
modlíme se tiše, při nich za dušičky.

Poslední již svíce, zvolna dohořívá,
za duše, jichž nikdo, nikdo nevzpomíná.”

“Let’s remember the souls and help them from the purgatory!

They will think of us when we’re dying.

On the All Souls’ Eve, we light the candles and pray silently for the souls.

The last candle is slowly going out, for those souls that nobody remembers.”

More superstitions

Sweeping up would scare off the souls and in the area of Znojmo, the housewives would place some bread on the window as a gift to the souls that came back to their house. Breadcrumbs were also thrown into the fire if it made a whistling sound, because that was the crying of the souls.

Rain on this day symbolized the souls’ crying for their sins.

Food on Dušičky

Except for the bread left in the homes for the souls, Bohemian, Moravian and Silesian households used to baked the so called Dušičky pastry or kosti svatých (bones of the saints) on this day and the day before which was the All Saints’ Day. It could be sweet (same dough like buchty) or savory, plain or filled with povidla and poppy seed. The savory pastry was made in the shape of rohlíky and it was sometimes called Navšesvatýrohlíky or všesvatový rohlíky. The pastry could also have the shape of buns, the letter S, wreaths or bones.

In some regions, children as well as adults used to go caroling for the pastry and they visited their relatives and godparents, which was expected of them.

Celebrations today

In Czech republic the events of this day are far from what you might know from Halloween or the Mexican Día de Muertos. No colorful celebrations, no scary costumes. It’s a peaceful day of remembering and for religious people also of praying for people who are no longer with us. Usually, people go to the cemetery and take care of the grave – clean it, place fresh flowers and light a candle. It is a quiet day that doesn’t necessarily need to be spent in the family circle, although many families choose to go together to the cemetery. The most important part is the remembering. Those who do not go, light a candle at home.

Find out more about popular Czech holidays in the Holidays category.

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