There is a new date assigned for us to remember loved ones who are no longer with us. Celebration Day is in its second year.
I discovered it first after reading an article about a well-known group of celebrities who were talking about how they planned to remember those they had lost.
Helena Bonham-Carter told The Times how she’d remember her father, Raymond, who died in 2004, by eating fudge in his honour. She explained how he’d give up chocolate for Lent and substitute it with fudge. So she planned to eat fudge in his memory.
Richard E Grant, who lost his beloved wife, Joan, in 2021, revealed he was planning to plant lupins in her honour “because she absolutely adored them”.
Well-known tree hugger Dame Judi Dench explained she was planning to live up to her reputation by planting another tree.
“It’s no secret that I adore trees, and I personally plant a tree every time a close friend or relative dies,” she explained. “I have a whole wood of friends and family.”
The organisers of Celebration Day allocate a Sunday a year to the commemoration and it seems to be connecting with the general public. I predict next year’s event will be even better reported than this year’s. I like that. Anything that allows us to recognise and acknowledge those who have gone before us is a good thing. And, even when the relationship has not been such a happy memory, it can be a time to reflect and examine what it meant to us and to see if we can find some healing from that process.
However, I couldn’t help but wonder why there was a need for a new special day to remember – and to celebrate such loss.
We already have a number of festivals to remember the dead in place. The Christian festival begins with All Hallows’ Eve on 31 October, ahead of All Saints Day to and culminating with All Souls’ Day – for all our dear departed non-saints – on 2 November.
That seems to have been cleverly and pragmatically merged by with Mexico’s Day of the Dead by Christians who brought their own religion to the Mesoamerica region when European explorers colonised that part of the world. Mexico of the modern world still holds on to some of its ancient traditions with families gathering at the gravesides of their ancestors to picnic and party in honour of those who are no more. For them, Halloween is not a night to fear – as ghoulish films and stories might suggest – it is a night to remember, and to venerate.
Elsewhere in our richly diverse world, the departed are also allocated their own special time. Religious ceremonies in the Far East include the cleaning of ancestors’ graves and the offerings of favourite dishes for those who are no more, while others combine remembrance with ceremonies to ward off potential evil spirits (in the Halloween tradition) and the avoidance of the wearing of the colour red to keep mischievous spirits away.
India has its festival of Shraddha, a fortnight of events that encompasses offerings, observances and pilgrimage and even has sub-divided groups for different aspects of how the loved one has died. That seems to demonstrate the care and thought taken when it comes to the bereavement process.
I found a touching connection between the commemoration of Maundy Thursday, the Thursday immediately before Good Friday and the day marking the Last Supper, and the Muslim ceremony of Thursday of the Secrets, which happens around the same time. As well as including dawn visits to the graves of their loved ones, celebrants provide food offerings to children and the poor. It is thought that particular ceremony was started by Saladin in the 12th century, as a “way of building bridges between Christians and Muslims in the Levant”.
So, as you will observe, we already have a substantial number of days set aside to remember. Is another one really necessary?
As someone who has worked as a bereavement counsellor for more than a decade, I’ve had the privilege of both learning about loss from a theoretical viewpoint and walking side by side with a person who is themselves grieving. I have accompanied them on their journey through the pain of loss and grief and been been privileged in some cases to be a part of their recovery process. Each person is different and no grief is the same. I also know about grief from personal experience. I know what the stabbing pain of loss and the empty void of despair feels like.
At one stage it was suggested that a person would be looking to “get over” their grief – usually through time – but I’m relieved to know that is no longer an aspiration. How could it ever have been? Imagine suggesting to someone that they “let go” of their memories or “look forward” to more hopeful times. I’m not sure how that would help. Better to let the bereaved grieve and reach their own conclusions in their own time.
The present thinking on bereavement is that the best way for us to manage our loss is to understand that we carry those we love with us in our hearts, even after we have lost sight of their physical presence. It can be unimaginably painful to accept you will never see/hear/speak to the person you love again in this world. It may be of some comfort later to hold on to the feeling and understanding that we still carry our loved ones within us for all time.
Instead of just one day as a celebration day, I’m drawn towards the idea of imagining every day as one to celebrate. It would be good if we could take a little time during our own busy days to consider how far we’ve travelled and to take in our thoughts and feelings towards those who have joined us on our particular journey.
And if we have valued them enough to remember and grieve for them, then maybe they need to be more than a memory on just one particular day. Maybe we should try to make every day a celebration day. For us, as well as them.
Photo 1: Jan Huber on Unsplash
Photo 2: Nick Fewings on Unsplash
Photo 3: Jason Leung on Unsplash