Monday, November 2, 2015

MopDog Monday: Day of the Dead and Hungarian cemeteries

Every year, in the weeks leading up to Halloween, Hungarian social media is flooded by angry memes and images protesting against "foreign traditions." The gist: Halloween, as it is known in the US and the UK, is not a traditional holiday in Hungary.
What we do have, however, is All Saints' Day (November 1st), and the Day of the Dead (November 2nd).

The downside: No trick-or-treating, or costumes and parties (we do those in February during Carnival)

The upside: Solemn family occasions of remembering the dead. We go to the cemeteries, and light candles on all the family graves. Cemeteries around Hungary look eerily beautiful this time of the year, and as a child, I always loved lighting the candles and sticking them to the headstones. This is also how I learned about my ancestors, who they were, and how we are related. It was a regular occasion of passing on the family stories.

In order to understand better, you need to know what Hungarian cemeteries are like. When I first arrived to the USA, I was very surprised at cemeteries: The headstones were small, they barely had any information on them (sometimes just a last name), and there were no flowers or candles in sight, unless the grave was fresh. It was strange to me, because I grew up with grandparents who made it their almost-daily routine to make a trip to the cemetery, bring fresh seasonal flowers from the garden to all the family graves, pick out the weeds, light candles, and have a chat with other people who were there doing the same thing (we call this my grandmother's Analog Facebook). I often accompanied them when I was little, and I played in the cemetery, reading headstones, lighting candles, and looking at the decorations all around. In addition to my own great-grandparents, grand-uncles and other relations, I also often took candles and flowers to the grave of the priest that had baptized me, as well as the grave of a little girl whose story was written on the headstone. Cemeteries, much like churches and pubs, are traditionally a social setting, and a place of active remembrance.

Every year we get more and more Halloween parties popping up in Hungary, with scary costumes, fake blood, and candy. I personally don't mind at all; I think it is a fun holiday (and I love chocolate). At the same time, I also agree that we have traditions that should be kept, and I am glad that I grew up with them.

Light a candle. Remember.

1 comment:

  1. I was amazed at the cemeteries I saw in Russia last year. They were so elaborate. We do not do that here in the states. When I was a child my parents took me to visit my maternal grandmother's grave every month. Just a small headstone there and only rarely did you see any kind of monument.