Monday, October 31, 2016

Night Lights for the Dead?

In honor of Halloween, I give you: cemetery lights. I've spent enough time in parts of the world where world religions meet ancestor worship to have seen or heard about some elaborate funeral practices and memorial strategies. This one's new to me.

Did you know it was a thing? I didn't, not until last night when Chris came home a different route from the hospital and reported that our closest cemetery is aglow with solar-powered lights next to every tombstone. Some quick research suggests this is not, say, a security issue, but a way those left behind can honor, remember, or keep vigil for those who have gone on.

A couple internet searches for news about the phenomenon come up with no informational articles (though I'll keep looking), just oodles of ads for these from a wide variety of companies. They call them memorial lights, memorial lanterns, eternal lights, or vigil lights. Some are shaped as crosses or angels, others as candles or lanterns. As solar lights have become more popular and affordable, I suppose we shouldn't be surprised to see them cross over from gardens and driveways to graveyards as well.

One site says (somewhat ungrammatically),
"Cemetery lights also known as memorial lights are widely used in memory and respect for those departed loved person who passed on. As many consider it’s a bridge to the other side that can help in making the place more accessible. While a cemetery light for death can in no way replace the person who has died it can provide a spark of hope that those who have died will not be gone forever."
Maybe they don't use these on the West Coast, or maybe we just don't go to enough / the right kind of cemeteries to have noticed them. Are they mostly a Southern phenomenon? African-American? Catholic? Let me know if you know anything more about where this practice came from or how widespread or popular it may be. Inquiring minds want to know...

If it's primarily a Catholic thing, it may echo lighting candles for the dead, something that might be more likely to happen this week of the year than others:
"Catholics light candles for the dead as an act of remembrance or as a prayer for their souls. They can light candles at any time; however, death anniversaries and All Souls' Day are particularly popular dates to light candles in prayer for the dead."

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I miss Halloween, you know... Halloween as I think I remember it, Halloween through the eyes of a child in the 1970s. Without all the spooky stuff (which was probably there. I was just unaware).  Without all the institutionally-sponsored Halloween events (Trunk or Treat!). It was just about visiting our neighbors door to door, if only this one time of the year. (Well, this and when we knocked on their doors to sell them Girl Scout cookies or when they came to ours to tell us our dog was on the loose or our sheep had gotten out.)

Costumes were homemade, often a week or day before, not bought in a store. Mom sewed them when we were really small. Later we made them ourselves. Kids might go as pirates, not Jack Sparrow; as mermaids, not Ariel from the Little Mermaid. Now, like everything else, costumes seem to be produced commercially and chosen to highlight some aspect of consumer culture.

Guess I shouldn't be surprised. The culture has changed. It does that! 

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