Saturday, November 5, 2011

Weekend Reflections: All Saints Day

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1 Now Moses --- came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” 4 When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush … [Exodus 3]

No, I do not claim the bush in my photo to be a particularly holy one; but with every day now, the few trees and bushes still dressed in sparkling colour, are getting more and more rare – and hence a strange sight in the otherwise brownish-grey landscape. And cause enough to stop and reflect for a while!

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See more Reflective Photography  at Weekend Reflections

 

Today in Sweden is All Saints Day. In our calendar we have two of those; and on top of that, tomorrow is All Souls Day.

The original All Saints Day was 1 November. At some point however it was moved to fall on the Saturday preceding the first Sunday in November. This sometimes causes a bit of confusion about when to celebrate “Halloween”.

All the British-American Halloween celebrations with spooky decorations, dressing up in costumes and going out on trick-or-treat etc have not really got rooted here. Some of it has crept into our culture as well through TV and so on in later years. But parallel to that, a more solemn (originally Catholic) tradition of lighting candles and putting winter decorations on the graves of the deceased has grown even more, and seems to remain the stronger one here. Even though the candle-lighting tradition also does not go further back in our country than the 1950’s or so.

This year, in discussions in the media, I noted what seems to me a growing tendency to want to keep the two traditions apart and not mix them up. It now seems to be frequently recommended that Halloween celebrations of the ‘American’ kind should be held on 31st October … While All Saints Day and All Souls Day should respectfully be kept free from that kind of stuff.

And there is of course something to be said for that. Because if you’re going out to light candles on a loved one’s grave, you might not be quite in the right spirit to deal with a ghost or skeleton turning up on your doorstep asking for treats or threatening you with tricks.

I’m kind of fascinated to see how in the long run this will develop, because in so many other ways our society is separating itself from religious practice. Christmas is pretty much commercialized and Easter I think among most people is even less connected with “church” than Christmas is.

Maybe All Saints has come to fill a sort of gap - a need of a holiday with a bit more time for serious reflection. The time of year sort of encourages it. With darkness falling and a long winter ahead, we’re not quite in the wildest of celebrations moods.

Mind you, I’m not sure all that many people go to the church services. Most probably only visit the family graves; with their own sort of rituals connected to that.

I blogged about my own feelings and childhood memories of this holiday two years ago in a post entitled The Dreary Misery of Halloween.  As you might deduct from that title alone, this was never a favourite celebration of mine; rather the opposite.

I had to deal with it somehow back then, two years ago, because that was the first autumn after mum died. Writing/blogging about it was kind of therapeutic.

Last year, my dad had moved to a nursing home; and since then he too has passed away from this life.

This year I’m on my own for the All Saints weekend. I can’t visit my parents’ grave because the village churchyard where they are buried is too far from the road where the bus goes.

I don’t really feel an absolute need to either, because at heart I believe that Time and Place only matter to the living, not to the dead. But in spite of that I’m still sort of feeling the weight of Tradition on my shoulders.

So yesterday I did go to light candles on the older family graves in town – on two different cemeteries, both within walking distance from where I live, but in opposite directions. The one farthest away I visited in the morning around 10 am. It is a huge drive-in cemetery. I thought by going early I might avoid the worst traffic chaos… But found that there was already quite a bit of that going on. Someone had parked their car on a narrow lane, causing queues in both directions. Neither queue was able to move. Some people were getting out of their cars and arguing. Definite tension in the air. Being on foot myself I had to step out onto wet lawns and even into mud and bushes to get past the car queues. I seem to recall the situation was exactly the same last year…

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In the late afternoon, as twilight was falling, I went to the other cemetery which is very close to where I live. Oops, darkness still fell faster than I was prepared for. Here too, in spite of the cemetery not being so big, lots of cars were driving in. I discovered I did not have any reflex tag on me. (I usually keep at least one in each jacket but I must have taken it out when washing this jacket after last winter, and forgot to put one back.) I got blinded by the headlights of the cars, could hardly see where I was going, and felt very unsure how much the drivers in turn could see of me! And as in the other cemetery, the roads in this one are not planned for double lines of traffic either; and hedges leave no room for pedestrians to step aside.

Luckily it hit me that I have a flashlight “app” on my mobile. Never really had reason to use it before, but now it came in handy! Phew!

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To be quite honest, yesterday mostly served to remind me why I never much appreciated the tradition in the first place. It still fails to serve its real purpose with me. For quiet contemplation of the passing of time and life and generations, I really do prefer to visit cemeteries in daylight, and not when they’re so crowded that they remind of rush hour traffic in the city…

So I think that’s probably what I should stick to.
(May this post serve to remind me…)

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6 comments:

  1. this is all new to me, we don't have anything like this here. i know that a lot of people go to put flowers on the graves of their family at Christmas and Easter and some on the birthday. i have never been one to do that, but a lot of my friends do. i like that church, it is beautiful and the photo of the church and the one below are really pretty. the one below the church is perfect for this holiday because it is a tad spooky.

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  2. Well, I do so much like your traditions better than our stupid Trick-Or-Treating, which is a leftover pagan custom. Your picture of the lights on the graves at night is so pretty and solemn, especially with the bare trees, it seems even a bit misty. That one picture is worth all the trouble.

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  3. Interesting post, and nice pics too.

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  4. beautiful post and the story is awesome...

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  5. Halloween hasn't really caught on here either although it is becoming more popular in the cities. Neither do we have strong Christian traditions like those I grew up with. I enjoyed reading about your All Saints Day. I love your photo of the church with the soft inner glow.

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  6. I grew up with All Saints Day but with no traditions attached (apart from being a Holy Day of Obligation for my Roman Catholic friends) and Halloween was a popular time for duckapple and other games which we children (and our parents!) played but I can't recall trick or treating when I was a child - I certainly was never involved in it.

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