Let’s Talk About Cemeteries…
When you think of a cemetery, what’s the first thought that comes to your head? For me, it’s that dark, cold, scary place where I never want to go. Is it the same for you? When was the last time you visited a cemetery when it was not related to a death? Again, for me, I can’t remember (when in the US anyway). I do recall stopping by my parents grave for a very short visit maybe five years ago but I did not bring any flowers.
On this Halloween I find myself at a cemetery in Lodz, Poland and not because it is Halloween but because it is the day before All Saint’s Day. This trip or gathering (a festival really) at the cemetery happens every year beginning on the day before November 1st , and runs through November 2nd. All Saint’s Day, November 1st, is a very important day in the Christian calendar.
All Saint’s Day, also known as, All Soul’s Day stems from a belief that there is a spiritual bond between those in heaven and those still living and it is a time to honor the Saint’s that have given their lives to God. It is a national holiday in those historically Catholic countries and is widely celebrated by the whole family.
Poland, a country made up of nearly 92% Catholics, places much emphasis on this day. The cemeteries are buzzing with people chatting, laughing and reflecting. The grave stones have been polished, weeds picked, candles lit and flowers placed all for this celebration. The flower vendors line the streets with fresh and silk made arrangements, the glass candle votives that come in a variety of color and sizes are there for the choosing. The police detour traffic as the pedestrians fill the streets. The air is filled with the smell of cotton candy, grilled farmers cheese and the pretzel vendor to help keep the children and everyone’s tummies full as they wind their way through the gravestones.
Families stroll through the cemetery gates carrying their offerings to their deceased loved ones. They come with brooms, pruning shears and cleaners to beautify the grave and spend time being grateful for the love they once shared or the bravery this person exuded during times of oppression.This day, All Saint’s Day, is so special that everything is closed. Malls, restaurants, bars, food stores, everything, even the local coffee shop. This can prove to be a little hazardous if you are on holiday, one could starve to death, if not prepared. But, there is hope, you can always stop by a local cemetery and find lots going on.
Cemeteries are jam packed. Coming from America it is hard to believe you would spend the day among the dead. Shoulder to shoulder, the young children and the elderly flock to spend a day sharing memories and stories of their loved ones. It is truly a beautiful site.
The event goes way into the evening and as the candles are lit the cemetery seems to come alive (no pun intended). The center aisle is where people come to place candles of the forgotten ones as they silently lay their candle on the ground and stand quietly in reflection. It is a chilling site and very sombering.
Mexico is another country which joyfully celebrates this day. I once had the opportunity and pleasure (I might add) to celebrate this day at Mission San Luis Rey de Francia in Southern California favorite food or drink, dress or clothing, hobby or profession in the trunk of their vehicle of the deceased.
There was also a display of old or antique cars that had been dressed up for the occasion and the festival was full of light and love. Music blared, food was plenty, children were playing and laughter filled with aisles. Day of the Dead as they call it at the Mission San Luis Rey de Francia, is a fun filled festival with music, food, and you wouldn’t want to miss out on the antique road show where the cars are decked out with the deadliest of designs.
I am drawn to deep traditions such as this and am filled with awe of the love that is shared on this day. What does going to the cemetery mean to you? I think a summer gathering might be in store during my next visit to my home town in Maine, how about you?
Until next time,