Sunday, 1 April 2012

All-Saint's Day

In Canada, as October submits to November, our stores, houses, and communities are decked out in Halloween style: goblins, ghouls, rats on gravestones, symbols of everything eerie and evil come out to play.  In Croatia, the markets fill with flowers.  Blooms and baskets line every grocery store or place of business, in readiness for November 1, All Saint's Day  (or the Day of the Dead).  The focus was so strikingly different to me, that its image stands out starkly in my mind.

Churches, such as this old gem near the castle of Dvigrad, become the focus of entire families as people of all ages and walks of life carry the beautiful flowers they purchased the day before to the graves of their loved ones.  Churchyards come alive with beauty as the growing collections amass in a never-ending stream of quiet visitors.

A day set apart to mourn, remember, and honour their deceased relatives, Croatians make use of the state holiday to gather with family.

We happened to be in the vicinity of Beram on all Saint's Day.  We had hoped to see Istria's most famous frescoes in the tiny Beram church.  Not realizing what November 1st meant to Croatians,  we watched with interest as carload after carload of well-dressed visitors approached the graveyard with flowers.  When we realized what was happening, we understood that this was not the appropriate day to ask for admission to the chapel.  Instead, we followed people into the graveyard, in order to better understand the nature of the holiday.

The flowers and candles made a stunning display.  we wandered quietly, taking in unfamiliar names, reading inscriptions, quietly observing.

I remember suddenly feeling that I was intruding on something very private - something sacred.  It felt like our idle curiosity had no place in that silent mourning , in that time of personal honour.

We quietly retraced our steps and sombrely drove away.

I left thinking that a day set aside to honour family was so much more fitting, more cultural, more beautiful than a day set aside to decorate with witches and give out candy.  I loved to see the families together, placing their floral tributes with care, enjoying the gorgeous fall splendour.

I am not Catholic - I don't know much about saints. I don't even know that much about what I observed on that day in Croatia.  But I do know that it gave me a unique chance to glimpse a people who value family above all else, who exhibit strong principles of  a societal bond worth celebrating - and I am so glad that I was there to be a part of it!


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you! Let me know if ever make any mistakes - you will be far more connected to the local culture than I...