Honoring Our Ancestors – September/October 2013

Halloween, also referred to as “All-Hollows” Eve, is the evening before All Saint’s Day and is an ancient Celtic holiday traced back to 4,000 BC. October 31, which marks the end of the Celtic Old Year and the beginning of the New Year, is a day to honor the dead. Halloween is believed to be the time when the veils between the worlds are the thinnest…when those who have passed away can communicate with the living and we to them.

It was believed in many Celtic lands the souls of the departed would make their way back from the grave and come to visit their former residence. Many people left their homes lit so the deceased could find their way in the dark. Before bed, tables were set so the visiting deceased relatives would feel welcome. In parts of Europe, it was customary to make “soul’s bread” the following morning to feed the returning souls.

Halloween calls to mind my own ancestors. As I reflect on the cycle of life and death I imagine a graveyard silhouetted with marble statues, weathered farmhouses and old lace, tattered quilts and wrinkled faces. I see cracked pane windows and flickering candlelight. I envision crumbling walls that have witnessed generations of lives unfolding and centuries of stories told. I often wish I could hear these walls talk.

With each passing year comes an increasing curiosity about the lives of my ancestors. When relatives pass away, gone is the oral history of our lineage. My mother is the last of the memory keepers in my family. Alzheimer’s interrupts our hours of reminiscing about my father who died at twenty five, about my Aunt Bertha who was the first person in our family to hold a professional position as an executive secretary, and about Aunt Delia and Uncle Warren who took in “wards of the state” to give them shelter and to have extra hands to work the farm. I know what I do not capture and scribe in my lifetime is history left silent for future generations.

In our scrapbook pages, our journals and our art we are documenting history, giving prominence to the present moment and allowing stories of family and friends to transcend time. There is an honor, and a reverence we bestow upon the departed when we bring voice to their distant whispers. And in a magical way, we are documenting our own history with each scrapbook page and journal entry created with our hands and heart. When the wheel of life turns and on All Hollows Eve we are the deceased relative “visiting” our family, we might find on the table along with bread and tea…volumes of our handy work dog-eared from years of being well-loved and cherished

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