Monday, November 1, 2010

All Saints Day

All Saints Day in New Orleans -- Decorating the Tombs in One of the City Cemeteries, an 1885 engraving

Happy all Saints day. All Saints' Day is Roman Catholic holiday officially the Solemnity of All Saints and also called All Hallows or Hallowmas in honor of all the saints, known and unknown. It is the custom on the Creole Catholic Gulf Coast to Clean and repair family tombs, Whitewash them and bring flowers to the graves of dead relatives and prayers are also offered. Catholic priest go around the cemetery blessing the tomb. In heavily Catholic New Orleans, All Saints Day (November 1) and All Souls' Day (November 2) have been observed for centuries through rituals celebrating life over death.

During the Yellow Fever epidemics in eighteenth century New Orleans, death always loomed close. It's presence left the lasting impression on this city and its inhabitants that life is a gift, perhaps fleeting, and should be enjoyed to its fullest each day. And so, on All Saints Day and All Souls Day, New Orleanians honor the lives of their dead loved ones by painting tombs with brilliant whitewashes, placing yellow chrysanthemums and red coxcombs on graves and ringing statuary with immortelles (wreaths of black glass beads). On these days, cemeteries throughout the city are alive with the flickering glow from fields of candles, as death is forgotten and lives lived are celebrated.

It is one of the many rich New Orleans' traditions I observe annually at a good friends family tomb in one of the Old Creole cemetery's just outside of the Old French Quarter. Each year every one in the party brought something to eat I usually brought French white wine. The Host made a big pot of Creole gumbo. Someone brought French bread. We had music and I wore my 18th century Mourning jewelry. We talked about our 18th & 19th century deceased relatives, as if they were standing by us. Ancestor worship is already something big in Creole New Orleans. Many 90 year old lady's have showed my family pieces of furniture that belonged to there 3 great grandmother and talk about them as if they might be in the next room. It is not unusual to go into a Old Louisiana family home and see 90% of the original furnishing including ancestor oil portraits peering down on you in there gilt ornate frames all dating before 1860. New Orleans is a wonderful time warp of the Old World, Antebellum, Creole and the slow progress of the new peering in this glorious gumbo of culture.

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