Friday, October 19, 2012

All Souls Night ...

Have you ever had one of those moments when you've thought, "How could I not have known about that?"? I had one on Wednesday morning when a friend told me she was going to the 8th Annual All Souls Night at Mountain View Cemetery, (Vancouver's only cemetery), on Saturday October 27th.

The 8th Annual All Soul's Night?? I hadn't known there had been a first, and I tend to have a pretty good idea about what's going on in the City. When I got home, I googled the event and found that it is sponsored by the City of Vancouver Department of Parks, Recreation and Culture and is described, thus, in their calendar of events:
Community event. An atmosphere of contemplative beauty with music, warming fires and fragrant teas to comfort the living, and public shrines to remember the dead. 
Candles, flowers, and other materials will be available for the creation of personal memorials.
There will be an opening prayer at sundown. 

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the tradition of All Soul's Day, its origins in European folklore and beliefs are related to the honouring of ancestors, a practice seen throughout the world in events such as China's Ghost Festival, Japan's Bon Festival, and the Mexican Day of the Dead. 

All Souls Day became a formal part of the Western Christian tradition in 998 AD when the Benedictine Abbot of Cluny (a powerful monastery in medieval France) designated it a day of prayer for the souls in purgatory. (As opposed to those already in heaven, for whom prayers were offered on All Saints Day, November 1st.) Over the years, some churches have fused the two days and others, particularly those of the Eastern Orthodox tradition, now celebrate All Souls days at several times during the year.

In Europe, the French decorate the graves of their dead on the jour des morts and the German, Polish and Hungarians leave gifts of flowers and special grave lights at graveyards once a year. The Czechs visit and tidy the graves of relatives on this day and the people of Malta make pilgrimages to graveyards to remember all the dead, not just their relatives.

In other countries, special foods and church services mark the day. For example, in Tirol, special cakes are left out for the dead and the room is kept warm. In Brittany, people kneel at the graves of loved ones and anoint the hollow of the tombstone with holy water and in Brazil people attend mass or visit the cemetery with flowers for the grave.

Regardless the form of these rituals, I think it's the fact of the rituals that matters here. We humans need rituals because they provide opportunities - opportunities to remember loved ones who have died, to tell their stories, to grieve once again with the support of family and community, and to celebrate life. As church and other providers of ritual grow less relevant in the lives of many, I think the City of Vancouver is to be congratulated for creating this opportunity to remember and I hope you will  take advantage of it if you can. I certainly shall.

ps  I received an email today with additional information regarding the Mountain View All Souls celebration.  The celebration actually covers six days:

  • October 18  7pm  Orientation and creation of personal shrines
  • October 20  1-3pm  Sugar skulls workshop (Registration required)
  • October 27  6-10pm  Night for All Souls
  • October 28  7pm  Threshold Choir
  • October 30  7pm  Screening of film - Forever - about Pere-Lachaise Cemetery in Paris
  • November 1  7-9pm  Orkestar Slivovica Balkan Brass band  performs at Vancouver Crematorium and Celebration Hall, with a procession through the shrines to honour the dead. 

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