Recently, on my annual trip to the cemetery to clean the graves of my deceased parents, grandparents, in laws and other family, I found myself in a remembering mood. The thoughts, as they flooded my mind, were at times memorable and amazing, scary and unflattering all at the same time.
I remember my grandfather taking me to the cemetery to clean his friend’s grave, which was ultimately to become his final resting place. I helped; how much I cannot say. But there were ceaseless warnings about stepping on other people’s graves or sitting on their headstones with the threat that you may have your feet pulled by the deceased.
At the time, decades ago, there was much more to All Saints’, which we as Catholics observed, than merely ‘lighting up’ the gravesites of our departed loved ones. It meant for us as children, an evening out with reduced parental supervision. The adults lit the candles and recited the appropriate prayers.
For us children, it meant a totally different scene. It meant running all over the cemetery, from grave to grave, collecting the dropping grease from lit candles to make large or small balls to take home and which many mothers and grandmothers used gratuitously in their washing. It was said it was used in starch for a more fulsome wash. I guess that was the reason we were allowed the unsupervised privilege of going from grave to grave gathering candle grease ….it was beneficial to the adults responsible for the weekly laundry.
Of course, this lack of supervision meant a lot more to us children. It meant an opportunity to throw much smaller candle balls at other unsuspecting children…a kind of ‘scooch’ if you dare call it that. While this was going on, the teenagers, boys particularly, not really interested in candle grease and its usefulness, saw an opportunity to fraternise and talk to the girls.
As the years went by, Catholics were told that the day to celebrate the dead will be changed from November 1 to the following day, November 2, the Feast of All Souls. It was explained that this day was more appropriate to pay honour to relatives who had passed on. And so, the Feast of All Souls has taken on all the various traditions of what we had become accustomed to with the Feast of All Saints.
Regardless of the date change, people still take seriously this annual opportunity to remember the departed souls and still converge on cemeteries on All Souls’ to place candles, deyas or even strings of electric lights on the graves of loved ones. And if the night is clear, an eerie canopy of subdued light descends upon the graveyards enveloping the area long after those of us who are still alive have left the cemeteries, not hanging around long enough to enjoy this yearly spectacle of glowing flames cast like a dome above the cemeteries and watch it evaporate into thin air a few hours later.
In recent years, cremation is being preferred by many families and the almost overnight growth in crematoria plus the effects of traffic gridlock and our growing body of busy millennials have diminished ‘lighting up’, but the glow of the traditional candle lights still abound. So whether we observe All Saints’ or All Souls’, the season of remembering and paying tribute to our departed loved ones long after they have left us is still very much alive.
By Vernon Khelawan