Celebrating the Dead

El Día de los Muertos and Samhain are quickly approaching and this is the season in which the dead are acknowledged and celebrated. Even for those whose spiritual paths do not include either holiday, this time of the year can embrace a celebration for the departed.

Some ideas for celebrating the season:

  • The Memory Circle – This is a gathering of friends and family to celebrate the life of a single individual. Choose a meeting place – private is usually better, as this can be an emotional event. Within your selected space, have everyone sit in a circle. In the middle of the circle, place photos and momentos of the person. Each person at the gathering then shares a personal memory of the deceased. End with a prayer or appropriate closing remarks.
  • A Dumb Supper – “Dumb” in this case means silent. A dumb supper is a feast held in silence to honor of the dead. Solemn and reverent, this can be a moving celebration. To enhance the experience, place pictures of the departed around the table, serve the dishes on black dinnerware, and dine by only candlelight.
  • A Ghost at the Table – If the idea of a dumb supper seems a little intimidating or more than you’re able to do, set an extra place at the table in honor of those who have departed. If you wish, speak to the departed as if they were joining you at the table- tell them the things that you wish to say and invite them to continue to be a part of your life.
  • An Ancestor Shrine – Various cultures have traditions that involve the creation of a shrine to honor one’s ancestors. You can do this yourself by selecting a spot to set up the altar (a small table or shelf works well). Drape with a cloth – black and white are both colors associated with the dead. Place on the altar items that remind you of your ancenstors such as photos and momentos. If you wish, you can include candles, flowers, and other decorations. Regularly spend time focusing on the shrine and the memory of your ancestors.
  • Graveside Picnics – This is a variation on the idea of dining with those who have parted. It is just exactly as it sounds – a picnic held near the graves of loved ones. These gatherings are typically much lighter in mood than dumb suppers and may include libations and offerings of food left at the grave. Please, please be respectful of the rules of individual cemeteries and of other people who may be visiting the graves of their deceased.
  • Memorial Tree – If you are celebrating with others or remembering a large number of people, this idea is a simple way to celebrate if you have a tree with low hanging branches on your property. To do this, you’ll need ribbon, small scraps of paper that have been hole-punched and writing instruments. Have everyone write out a message or memorial to a deceased friend or loved one and then using the ribbon, tie the message to the tree. If there’s a common thread such as those who have died from breast cancer, you can tailor your ribbon and paper colors to reflect this.
  • Offerings for the Deceased – This can be a simple as a libation of water poured onto a grave or a stick of incense burned in memory of the deceased. In some cultures, small stones and pebbles are placed on the the grave. Other offerings can include food, sweets, alcohol, coins, and for children, small toys. Again, if leaving offerings at a grave, please be respectful of any rules or prohibitions that the cemetery may have.

These are just a few ideas. No matter how you celebrate, the important thing to remember is that the dead were valued friends and family members and even now, deserve to be treated as such.

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