To fall in love with God is the greatest of all romances;
to seek Him, the greatest adventure;
to find Him, the greatest human achievement.

Saint Augustine

Friday, May 28, 2010

Thoughts and Observations on Memorial Day weekend

It's Memorial Day weekend again, which means parades and barbecues, cemetery tributes and visits with faux flowers*....

What I find interesting, however, is that for a lot of people, it's actual focus is forgotten and altered. No, I don't mean here how it has just become another "day off" on which to relax, which is sad in itself, but rather how it has gone, for many families, from a day on which to exclusively remember our war dead and also those who served in the military, survived, but have since passed away, to a day on which to remember any and all dead family members. ie: in stores selling the faux flowers - many say "Mother" and suchlike. The ones that stand up against the gravestones. You know...

Anyway. The reason it interests me is because, quite frankly, this is a result of Protestant America. Present-day America may have been discovered (not talking about Native Americans here) by Catholics (Spanish), but was founded by Protestants. America is more or less Protestant-ly minded. ish. Even my own family used Memorial Day as the day to visit the graves of all family members, not just the military ones.

See, if America were Catholic, or Catholic in founding, if you get what I mean, this would not have happened. My point:

All Souls Day, November 2nd, is for all dead family members, etc.

Memorial Day, in America, is a day set aside to remember our war dead and those who served in the military, now deceased, but did not die in combat. ie: both my mother's father and my father's father, etc.

(Veteran's Day, November 11, was originally called Armistice Day, for the day WWI ended, but was then changed in the US to be a day on which to remember and honor our living veterans; in other countries it is often called Remembrance Day, and is their "Memorial Day" on which to remember both war dead and veterans)

In traditionally Catholic cultures, All Souls Day is the day everyone goes to the cemeteries and places flowers at the graves, etc. Along with all the other varied and colorful traditions connected to the day for the different cultures. For Americans, the most visible connection we have to this day is Dia de los Muertos (Nov. 2nd), in Mexico. "The Day of the Dead." It is not a "Mexican Halloween," in the way Halloween is thought of in America. It is All Souls Day, as celebrated by our Mexican brothers and sisters. They have many traditions, besides taking flowers to the graves of their loved ones -- sugar skulls, home altars laden with the favorite foods of the dead loved ones, many traditional foods, picnics with candles at the cemetery. And so on. It is very colorful and very joyful, really. A time to remember and pray for those who have gone before us.

In doing away with the vibrant traditions and rituals of Catholic Christianity, Protestants somehow perceived a hole in their practices - one regarding their dead. Though it was not at all done consciously or with this purpose in mind, America's Memorial Day gradually began to gain a "sub" purpose (aside from its actual one to honor our military dead) - remembering all our dead family members. Most Americans, not having a special day for this, just naturally began to do so on Memorial Day. Though Memorial Day is not as religiously rich in traditions and customs as All Souls is the world over, it does, in a way, have its own set of traditions.

It seems the need to have a special day to do this is part and parcel of being human. We are hard-wired for it. I think most, if not all, cultures the world over have all had some sort of special day or festival or rituals for remembering their dead. So really, in that sense, and I am not saying this to be snide or condescending at all, Catholics had it right the first time. More and more Protestants are adopting liturgical traditions having to do with a Church year they barely recognize. Some Protestants are more "liturgical" than others, but still, they are adopting....
Advent wreaths and Lenten sacrifices. Memorial Day-turned-All Souls.... this renewal of interest in liturgical/Church year traditions is hopeful. :)

Really, I have found that within the general term "Protestant Christianity", there is a movement of sorts towards a very sacramental vision of life. I find this in the lyrics and worldviews of many of my most-loved musicians, for instance. But the way they are learning to see the world, the way we all ought to be learning to accustom our eyes, is Catholic, not Protestant. (However, many Protestants down the ages have had sacramental visions in some form, despite their particular denomination's actual way of seeing the world.) In seeing goodness in Creation, in material things, even 'secular' ones and seizing them for good, for Christ (ie: rock music)...they are doing something very Catholic indeed. Or, I should say, something that is truly Christian, but I shall write more on that later (really! I have a whole host of thoughts on that). Much of what they are doing/seeing/believing isn't really Protestant at all, especially for Calvinism-based denominations. In fact, Calvin would have punished them severely for a lot of their "excesses" -- tattoos, jewelry, various fashions, that loud music (lol!), dancing.... I find this fascinating. I did read an article somewhere not long ago on how the 'end' of the Reformation is coming... hm...

Maybe someday we can hope Memorial Day will be allowed to return to its proper purpose (which is where the emphasis lies in public celebrations; it's in private ones that it takes on All Souls Day elements) and All Souls Day will be given more attention in America. Because, quite frankly, even American Catholics have forgotten that holy day. (not saying all of them, but a lot). It seems the rich and vibrant traditions were left in the Old Country and their homelands. Not to mention Western society's deathly fear of death (sorry for super-lame pun). Halloween and horror flicks notwithstanding, approaching our mortality with thought, maturity, reverence, and intelligent consideration -- recognizing the urgency with which our lives must be lived (we only get one try) -- is generally avoided at all costs these days. We run away from aging and try to live longer and longer. We laugh at death and scenes of grief and mourning -- unless we are the ones mourning.

Speaking of which, no one knows how to properly mourn anymore. Gone are the old traditions and careful allocations of time and remembrances when someone died. Gone are the consolations of church rituals -- rituals everyone witnessed and participated in. We don't know how to mourn, grieve, or lament anymore (*sarcasm warning* thank you Stoicism remnants in Western society (adopted by mostly Protestants; Catholics generally are emotionally open - crying, laughing, etc), coupled with denial of mortality and avoidance of love and expression of emotion (vulnerability) in general......)

Perhaps we can learn a thing or two from our Hispanic brethren and revive real All Souls Day celebrations in the context of our own heritages and families.....unless Americans keep seeing Dia de los Muertos as just a "Mexican Halloween" without the trick-or-treating and modern-day excess of gory horror. >_< But then, we have also forgotten what Halloween is actually for, what it actually means -- Hallowe'en, All Hallow's E'en/Eve - the eve or vigil before the feast of All Hallows, that is, All Saints. And that is a topic for another day. ;)

*I would love to see a rebirth of the tradition of planting perennial flowers by gravestones. Cedars and yews are traditional for church yards, and lilies, irises, peonies, tulips, crocuses, roses, grape hyacinth, daffodils, and other perennials are also common for graves. In a teeny little forgotten cemetery where I have family members on my mother's side buried, there are lots of irises. One year we were there, I asked if we could dig some up and plant them at home, since they would be meaningful to us. So we did, and now we have some old-fashioned yellow irises and blue flag irises in our yard, a gentle reminder of those ancestors. (along with our jillions of other irises). :)

**It may seem I am picking on Protestants, but I am not trying to belittle, as I have many dear Protestant friends, and many of my favorite bands' members are some kind of Protestant Christian. Plus, several favorite writers are/were Protestant. :P I am just making some observations, as Protestant theology, worldview, and practices and customs (or the lack thereof) produce profoundly different results/effects in human lives than does Catholicism. This in itself is a huge topic and if I ever do write much about my own observations/experiences with this, it will be later. :P No bashing here, just cultural observations. :)

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