Monday, November 4, 2013

All Saint's Day: See That My Grave is Kept Clean...

 Another installment from Dr. Windy Petrie, Associate Professor and English Department Chair at Colorado Christian University, who was a Fulbright grantee to Lithuania in 2006.

It’s Halloween in America today and my friend from Poland is as disgusted with it as ever.  After having lived in Lithuania, I think I understand why.  In America, we traditionally dress in scary, or funny, or vulgar, costumes and debauch ourselves with candy or by other means. We often celebrate by creating ugly or silly facsimiles of death and destruction, or by pretending to be someone we are not, and then, in the most innocent and cute way possible, we extort treats from neighbors we may not speak to the rest of the year. But in Eastern Europe, the real holiday is All Saints’ Day: November 1st. It's treated as an official public holiday here: there’s no school and even most businesses were closed. But the change in the date of the holiday is the least of the differences between the two.


In Lithuania, people gather at the gravesites of family, friends, and, it appeared to my observation, also complete strangers to light candles and contemplate the lives of those who are now gone. There’s a remembrance of real lives lived, not a pretense at an alternative to real life, and there’s a ceremonial giving of respect, rather than a ritualistic receiving of treats.

These photos were taken in Bernadinu Cemetery, which  was first "commissioned" by the Bernadine monks in the early 1800's, and space seems to be at such a premium now, that we only found a handful of people buried there within the last 5 years. Most of the sites are very weathered, and the ground has shifted so much from being on a hill, excessive rain, and the freezing/thawing cycles of 200 years. On one visit, we saw a woman who was cleaning the weeds from a site, but she was quite old, and I could tell it was more than she could handle. There were also burning candles, or lanterns, on many sites scattered throughout the graveyard. The most recent date of death of those three was 1926. The one pictured shows a lantern lit in 2006 for someone who died in 1919.

Walking through the graveyard in the afternoon, I heard water and a scrub brush. I peered around the corner of a small mausoleum, and saw the man pictured. He was scrubbing the markers of the family plot. When you look at the rest of the graveyard, 99% of the markers have recent flowers planted on them, but they are covered in moss, broken, shifted, settled, or at least look like they are 100-200 years old. Not the ones he's looking after. They were sparkling. The dates on them range from 1913 to 1924. He was about 80-85 years old, and most likely never met the people whose graves he was tending so carefully. I was awed by his respect for family, tradition, and history.

That's him walking out of the cemetery...






























And those are his markers...