Thursday, October 31, 2019

Family history festivals

We finished reading Sylvia & Aki together the other day, which has been providing us with plenty to discuss during our social studies time (it's about two girls whose lives intersect in WWII: Aki is sent to a Japanese internment camp and Sylvia's family rents Aki's home and farm while they are away (and fights against segregation in California schools—the Mendez vs. Westminster case); there's seriously so much to digest in this book).

Unfortunately we don't have our new read-aloud book in our hands yet, so today we learned about Día de Muertos and Obon, as well as the history of our own Halloween holiday. I got a little teary as we watched little videos on YouTube, wishing we had a similar thing in our culture. I think, perhaps, the very root of Halloween is that sort of thing—the sort of thing where you acknowledge loss and remember about those you're missing and wish them well—but it's been buried by candy and spooks and general forgetfulness. It simply isn't a meaningful holiday anymore.

But I wish that it was.

I wish that we could build a boat in tribute to our lost loved one(s) to parade down the street. I wish we could bang on drums and gongs and set off firecrackers and yell their name out to sea. I wish we could say, "Hey, everyone! Here is who we've loved and lost! It's been really hard!" And I wish that our community would bang drums and set off firecrackers and say, "We know it's hard. We've lost someone, too. We're here for each other!"

I just think it's a beautiful thing that's missing from our society. Of course we mourn together at funerals and things, but we don't have a holiday with time set aside to acknowledge each other's pain, to remember our family (both here and beyond), and to celebrate life and, ultimately, death.

We have Memorial Day and Veteran's Day, but those holidays both don't quite do it for me since they're technically military holidays. We have Remembrance Day in Canada (same day as Veteran's Day) but, again, that's specifically to recall the horrors of war, not a time for family and community to gather and celebrate their family.

We have Family Day up in Canada, but that's just family time that coincides with President's Day in the States (why? to keep us on the same fiscal calendar?).

We have Christmas and Thanksgiving and all sorts of holidays, but they don't have the focus that I'm looking for.

What I want, I guess, is, like, a family history holiday.

Would that be weird? Like, where we can build ofrendas and display things our ancestors loved, where we can write their names on sticks and burn them on a bon fire (which has no linguistic ties to the English bonfire), or where we have time off to gather for family reunions and discuss our family history and enjoy each other (Obon is a time for family reunions, we learned) without having other traditions (like turkeys or bauble-bangled Christmas trees or Easter bunnies or trick-or-treating) getting in the way.

And maybe we don't need that. Maybe we just need to focus our attention on such things without setting aside a special day—very Puritan of us.

In a way, I suppose we do. Family history work is pretty important in our religion—temple work and family history work are sacredly linked—but I just wish there was more of a community feel to it. I really enjoyed watching the clips that we did about these two festivals and the communal expressions of grief and celebration. It was truly beautiful. And I'm aching for something like that right now specifically because grief in our culture is meant to be kept quiet and we're entering the anniversary of a very difficult week in our lives.

But that's okay. We'll make it through it.

Consider this my act of building a boat and parading it through the street.

Also, I kind of want to re-watch both Coco and Kubo and the Two Strings with my kids now (though a large part of my brain is screaming, "That's too much television!" especially considering how I let them watch Ichabod Crane and the Legend of Sleepy Hollow this afternoon). 


  1. Consider this banging on drums and gongs and setting off fireworks

  2. I think those holidays are beautiful, too! I was certainly thinking about Karen today--a year ago, it was the Lore event on Halloween night, and Karen went even though she wasn't feeling well. And I got to spend Halloween with you and your kids. And I think you should not feel guilty at all about watching Coco and Kubo and talking about all the sad feelings and happy feelings associated with the loss of Karen that will definitely come to mind from those films.

  3. I thought of Karen when you shared Miriam's birthday cake because I remember last year she made a really cool cake celebrating a few birthdays. And...she said how tiring it was and she'd never do that again. (something like that). Remembering that - then and now - saddens me.

    I wonder why our culture prefers we grieve privately. It's odd/interesting how cultures act and remember (or not) loved ones. In the Bible I read of tearing clothes and covering themselves in ashes. And didn't they have professional mourners sometimes? Western/northern European cultures (from what I know which is not much), by contrast, seem to be rather stoic by comparison. I actually prefer to grieve privately, but the communal grief might be...OK, I guess.

    Your family history holiday idea is interesting!

    1. I don't think that I would give up mourning privately, because that's certainly necessary as well, but I think public displays of grief might help our society to develop a healthier relationship with death.

      There are certainly some things that seem a bit much to me—such as sackcloth and ashes or famadihana (but that doesn't mean I couldn't get used to such ideas, I suppose)—and I prefer my grief to be quieter than that.

      In the Middle East women tend to wail while men carry the coffin through the streets—again a very public display of grief. Not that I want to wail or carry a coffin through the streets either.

      I just want our culture to somehow acknowledge death as inevitable (and as something that you have to deal with for your entire life), rather than sweeping it under the rug as we do. Like, "Are we still on this? Get over it!!" I'm not sure that the "get over it" attitude is helpful when dealing with grief because although the sadness diminishes it doesn't ever go away entirely (perhaps not sadness, but...the longing).

      But certainly mourning privately as well, as I'm sure they do in Japan, while publicly acknowledging a loss in a beautiful way, at least for me, would be nice.

      I think we try to do things like that in our culture—think releasing balloons on a death anniversary—but it's still individual (on the actual death anniversary) rather than a communal process. And I just think we need more sense of community in our country/culture...but that's just my opinion. ;)

      Thank you for remembering Karen with us!