Today is the Feast of All Souls.
Friday you may have celebrated Hallowe’en, perhaps decorating your house or yard with pumpkins or spooky items. In Scotland children mark the festival by “guising” dressing up and going from house to house, ideally performing some kind of “turn” in return for treats, usually sweets or chocolate. That couldn’t really happen this year, but at the request of a local parent many more houses and gardens sported decorations than usual. And parents took their children on a treasure hunt, rewarding them with a treat for each one they spotted.
Hallowe’en marks the “even” or “eve” of All Hallows, All Saints day when the dead are near, and remembered. It’s also the feast of Samhain, and Calan Gaeaf in Gaelic and Welsh traditions. The end of harvest, beginning of winter. It’s an old festival in the western world and a meeting of Christian and pre Christian traditions.
I’m not a person of faith but I like to mark my year by observing certain festivals. I give up cake and chocolate for Lent, decorate eggs at Easter, and celebrate Christmas. I stick to the traditions I grew up with, ones which, as far as I know were observed by my ancestors. I love learning about other people’s faiths and festivals but they aren’t my story to tell.
And so today; MrS lived in Paris for a while and recalls how family would visit the graves of their dead on what was called Toussaint. Headstones would be cleaned, and fresh flowers or ornaments set onto the graves. So in that tradition I visited our local cemetery on my walk today. Like many in the Hebrides headstones are placed to face the sea and to the east.
There are also some very ancient stones. And ones commemorating people I’ve known.
I didn’t do any cleaning, that wouldn’t have been appropriate.
As a child though it was an annual task, but not on All Saints. We visited our family graves on Palm Sunday. We tidied up the overgrown grass, cleaned the stone if necessary and placed fresh flowers. I didn’t feel scared or upset by this task, it was just what we did. And the grave we tended was my grandfather’s who’d died when I was a baby. So I had no living person to associate with it.
But that cemetery could not be scary, it was a magical place. It was the place the chocolate tree grew. My uncle would visit it and bring back its fruit. Now my big sister can remember seeing him actually picking the chocolate from the tree. I don’t remember that, only the chocolate. Perhaps I was too little to remember? Or only had eyes for the treat.
I was always a greedy child.