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Remembering, and celebrating, our ancestors

Rev. Brian Gaeta-Symonds, CPC Associate Pastor for Outreach

Images of Calaveras, mariposas, and the adorably face-painted little boy Miguel from the Disney animated film, Coco, all take us away to a different bright and colorful place.

The lively sounds of the mariachis playing their brass and stringed instruments sweep us off our feet. Together they tease our imaginations with the slightest mention of Día de los Muertos, or in western cultures All Saints and All Souls Days.

This special time in the year of the Christian church is a moment to remember the many saints and faithful loved ones who have passed away recently and who are long since deceased.

The stories, myths  and sacred texts of many of our worlds faith groups tell of a deep value in the remembering of deceased loved ones. Buddhists will often pray for the happiness of those now departed. Hindus practice the act of Shradh, which can include acts of giving food to the poor and praying for those passed.

Those of the Jewish faith sit shiva and hold a solemn day of remembrance each year. Muslims offer many days of prayer. A faithful Sikh would go to temple for prayers, the Guru Granth Sahib will be read, and after 10 days the Bhog is held to close out the mourning period.

Christians will celebrate the life of the deceased with prayers on the anniversary of their passing, or another special holiday.

Not to be mistaken for simply a coincidence, there is a common thread throughout each of these practices. Each ritual values the coming together, typically around food, to offer prayers and give flowers. Remembering our loved ones is not a practice we do alone; in fact, it is most often done in community, surrounded by those closest to us.

Many faith traditions hold onto the belief that we carry the stories of our ancestors with us. These stories reside in the very fibers of our flesh and bones and in the way we live our lives.

Psychologists write of family systems theory and family narratives, which teach us that who our great-grandparents were could have a direct effect on who we are today. It’s no wonder that we give the act of remembering our passed loved ones such high priority and placement in our spiritual practices.

My grandfather Howard, in his later years, had a small farm, an orchard, and a decent sized vegetable garden outside of Kingman in the seemingly barren Arizona high desert. Chickens, geese, and feral cats were commonplace around the yard, as were crack of dawn 5 a.m. wake up calls, nearly futile chases to catch a chicken for dinner, and toiling of the soil to make sure the vegetables and trees had good earth in which to grow and become fruitful.

That man worked tirelessly throughout the day to make sure his family and his community had food. He loved his God and prayed often. I believe it is from him who I received a strong work ethic and desire to be hospitable to all.

Their stories teach us, their memories accompany us, and the lessons we learn guide us into our own futures. Holding fast to these memories and stories often bring with them messages of hope and a promise for that great mystery which lies beyond this life.

Recalling the great accomplishments and kind acts of our loved ones empowers us to carry on their legacy and to work hard at creating a better world toward which they worked so hard.

The harvest season is a perfect metaphor and time of year to remember our loved ones who have gone too soon. We are fortunate to reap the bounteous harvest they grew. No, this harvest is not always of food, but rather hope and a promise for our future.

To remember is to hold onto the values they taught us, to be comforted by the memories they inscribed on our hearts, and to be guided as lamps and lights on our path.

All Hallows Eve, or Halloween as we know it, invites us into a playful opportunity to prepare for the days of remembering the dead. This harvest season’s arrival was also celebrated with a wonderful Claremont tradition, The Halloween Spooktacular.

As people of many different faiths, we should be encouraged to celebrate together as a way to remember our ancestors while having fun.

Beginning in the waning glow of the late afternoon on October 31, Village businesses and local organizations welcomed the city’s children and families out for games, food and fun. This offers our kids a safe way to enjoy the holiday tradition. All were invited to traverse the Village streets adorned in costumes and asking for candy and sugary treats.