Oct 30, 2009

All Souls Day

Before I shout out 'trick or treat', and light up a tea light in my awry-grinning Jack'O'Lantern, I wanted to share with you how Halloween-though it doesn't exist in this particular form-is celebrated in Croatia.

Members of the Catholic Church commemorate All Souls Day (or sometimes referred to as The Day of Dead) by visiting graveyards and all their beloved ones who rest there. The tradition is to bring candles and chrysanthemums to the graves. According to the belief, those who at the moment of death have not been purged from sin can still be saved by prayers of those who stay behind. Masses are served, and people, if not before or after, remember them at that day.

All Souls Day is 2 November and follows All Saints Day, which celebrates those who already have achieved the beatific vision. In Croatia, it's a national holiday.

When I was a child, what made it special was, first, the fact that we were free from school, and second, that, since we live very close to the graveyard, our house would become a station for those who, on their way back, stop by for a coffee. It was also the only time of the year when I was allowed to be on the graveyard at night. It's always a breathtaking scene to see numerous lanterns flickering in the thick night, people slowly strolling down the paths and silently thinking about the ones the loved and lost. Never like in this night, the border between the world of dead and the world of living diminishes-and the beyond becomes tangible, more profound and less scary.

One of my dearest memories from childhood is bound to this holiday. As kids we used to collect some money, buy lots of cheap lanterns and pick up what remained from flowers from the florists. Then we would walk down the graveyard and light up a lantern and put a flower on the graves of those who didn't have anyone to be visited by. Nothing can unleash the imagination of a child more than standing by a grave of someone unknown, gone for such a long time that even the name in the stone faded beyond recognition. Who were these people? What did they do? What did their time look like? And what stories could they tell if they,  in any way, could speak to us?

Nowadays it's different. Halloween as we see it in movies is making its way into the society. There are costume parties and carved pumpkins everywhere. Kids don't go around collecting sweets; here they do it during carnival time in February. But what remains is the magic of that one night of the entire year when death doesn't seem so distant anymore.

Happy Halloween!
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