Many of you will get a day off work this Friday, or maybe your partner will, and perhaps it’s another of those mysterious public holidays beginning with A that you’re not really sure what it’s all about.
Well, yes, there’s Halloween the night before for our American readers and anyone else who’s claimed that tradition as their own. But what of All Saints’ Day itself?
All Saints’ Day is a Christian day of remembrance for those who have died. In the Catholic Church, the Saints are remembered on this day, and on the following day, All Souls Day, all the dead are remembered. In Protestant tradition, where the “sainthood” is understood to mean all believers, All Saints’ Day is the day to remember all those who have died. Often names are read in church of those who have died in the past year.
This church tradition extends back to the 4th Century. It is thought that this Christian holy day was originally assigned this date in November to incorporate the many ancient festivals of the dead traditions that already existed across Europe and elsewhere. Many of us are also aware of the Mexican “Day of the Dead” festivities that mix Catholic and indigenous faith practices in a unique way.
This Friday, in many countries including Luxembourg, you’ll find people visiting the graves of their dead relatives and friends, to tidy and lay flowers and remember their lives.
And perhaps this is the most important part of this sacred day – the chance to remember.
As Western society becomes increasingly secular, fast-paced and success-focused, we risk losing something important – the chance to stop and remember.
Here is a chance to remember the legacy of our grandparents and parents and other loved ones who have died. To remember what they taught us, how they loved us, to learn from how they lived their lives and be thankful for the time we had with them.
It’s a chance to remember Saints – either Catholic, if that’s your faith tradition, or other inspirational men and women who have gone before us – and to be inspired by their lives, their actions, their beliefs.
It’s a chance to mourn, to sit with our grief without rushing to the next thing and to acknowledge the loss, lean into it and grow from it.
And it’s a chance to stop and recognise that one day, I too will die. What do I want my own legacy to be? How will I live this life well in the time I have?
This day does not need to be excessively sad or morbid. But I believe it’s a day we can benefit from, even if it’s not been our faith tradition in the past. Here are a few ideas of ways you can practically engage:
1. Remember those you’ve loved and lost
Visit their grave if this is a possibility, or spend some time looking through old photographs and mementos. Light a candle as a physical reminder of their lives. Write down any memories that come to mind that you don’t want to forget, the things you are thankful for. Perhaps you could even write a letter to the person if this is a helpful to process your thoughts and feelings.
2. Remember the Saints
Spend some time reading and learning about one of the Catholic Saints or another inspirational figure from history (perhaps Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, Marie Curie or Helen Keller). What lessons can you learn from their lives? How do they inspire you? Copy out some favourite quotes from them and put them up somewhere you’ll see them regularly.
3. Remember your own mortality
Evaluate your own life – are you living your best life or are there small steps you can take to make positive changes? Write a bucket list of things you want to do or achieve in your lifetime. Perhaps even write yourself a life mission statement. Take steps to repair any broken relationships in your life, and take every opportunity today to tell the people you love what they mean to you.
By Fiona Kofoed-Jespersen, October 2013