Sunday, March 27, 2011

Days for the Dead

"Celebrations and festivals are necessary for society and for the individual. They are about cultural identity, life  transitions and personal identity." --Mooncakes and Hungry Ghosts by C. Stepanchuk and C. Wong

Around the world societies and individuals celebrate, commemorate and remember. In doing so, festivals of many places serve tradition, often ancient. Festivals and other remembrances serve to connect us with our past, with the face that was before our self existed; they are links to the ancestor, or to the great intelligence and wisdom of the community. By linking the living with the dead, many cultures celebrate a sort of 'day(s) of the dead.'
The Spanish cultures have their Day of the Dead; the Indonesians (Balinese), their Day of Silence, the Bengali of India observe a festival called, The Day of the Dead. In China this is called the Qing Ming Festival. Its date is determined by the Lunar calendar; this year it will be observed on April 5, 2011.
Its origins stretch back at least 2,500 years. Sometimes it is called 'sweeping the graves.'
In Hong Kong, Tiawan and within the official Ethnic minority regions of China, Vietnam, Thailand and established communities abroad, the festival endures; however the Communist party of mainland China has only recently reinstated the official observance of this ancient tradition in 2008 .

Written in a reference style, the easy reading text, Mooncakes and Hungry Ghosts: Festivals in China by authors C. Stepanchuk and C. Wong, tell a bit about this and other events part of the calendar year. The authors while describing these events, write, "to experience a festival... you are required to set aside all day-to-day worries and cares in favor of a mood of make-believe and masquerade... For a time, we play the game of, "as if," freeing our mind and spirit, dissolving the laws of time and space, standing on the borderline between belief and disbelief."

The authors note that these festivals may be cathartic to the participants; they give rise to much appreciated levity. After all, a good laugh is uplifting; the festival may as well connect us with the past, or with spirits in a purposeful worship.
There are, the authors note, local variations to the major festivals. Regardless of the possible regional variations, these festivals share a common religious root. "Chinese festivals have a strong religious background, even though many are highly secularized today... there still is the strong belief in paying homage to spirits today."

So it is that, we, in many places throughout the world honor, remember and memorialize those foregone spirits. In doing so, we also play out an important reality in each life, that is the inescapable connection of time and the limits of our known, mortal life. Paradoxically, most often participants in  ritualized events are comforted by these festivals, many of whom express themselves with tremendous joy and enthusiasm. We continue to celebrate.

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