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Gifts for the dead

Started by adminsandiegohaunted, December 24, 2011, 03:11:43 AM

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The practice of leaving behind items at grave sites is a long standing tradition for many cemetery visitors.  An American flag at The Grave Of a soldier, a toy at the grave of a toddler, or a vase of flowers for a loved one, leaving gifts from the dead is a tradition.  It is clear that the kind of gifts left at the grave hold a cultural significance.  Ancient Egyptians built grand pyramid Temples too honor, protect, and immortalize deceased Pharaohs.  The burial chamber would typically contain items that the Pharaoh might want in his next life (or afterlife).  It is believed that even living servant's were buried alive to serve the pharaoh in his next life.  Many historians believe leaving behind gifts for the dead dates back to early Greek and Roman civilizations.  The act of placing two coins over the deceased's eyes, as payment to the ferryman, to ensure safe passage through the underworld continues even in these times.  Many Jews still practice a tradition of leaving pebbles on the graves of the deceased.  Some people believe the act of leaving pennies at a grave has roots in the life and death of Benjamin Franklin. A "penny saved is a penny earned," was never uttered by Benjamin Franklin.  The September 1899 issue of Pall Mall Magazine is the actual source of that quote.  It is still common belief that Benjamin Franklin uttered those famous words. Perhaps, this is why so many pennies are found atop his burial plot. Another possible reason coinage is left at graves, like tossing pennies in a well, is for good luck.

PPI Jason

Looks like El Campo Santo. Every time I go there I see gifts on the burial places.

My mom has a particularly strong tradition where she goes to the gravesite of her family (her parents and most of her brothers and sisters) and leaves a beatiful little lit up and decorated Christmas tree. It's really touching and a very important part of her holiday tradition.

It's particularly sad this time of year for me because I have many many less relatives this year than I did 10 years ago. It's pretty empty around our house as we've lost a lot of family to cancer, other diseases, old age, and various tragedies. Those that are still living have moved away. My mom used to have a full house during the holidays. Now it's pretty much a nice dinner with my family and my parents.  My mom has a table cloth she made with photos of some of our relatives that passed on. It's actually very full.  :(

But traditions like these help us feel like, maybe, they're not as far away as we think they are. I've learned to feel comforted seeing their pictures and leaving gifts for them.
Probably the earliest flyswatters were nothing more than some sort of striking surface attached to the end of a long stick.
-Jack Handey

PPI Karl

In many provincial areas in Europe (and elsewhere), they still celebrate the pagan tradition of feeding the ancestors with gifts of cakes and liquor.  Like the practice of voodoo in the Caribbean cultures, there's a wierd overlap of these native spiritual customs and Christianity.  The fact that we still feel compelled to connect to the dead through gifts and offerings, despite this practice being in conflict with our formal religious traditions, shows just how human a need it is to connect to the dead through the tangible things we shared with them in life.

One of my most memorable experiences is visiting the main cemetery in Warsaw on All Souls Day, back in 1984.  (I was living in Warsaw at the time.)  This was during a pretty volatile time for the Solidarity movement in Poland, and Father Popieluszko, an outspoken Catholic priest who was a Solidarity sympathizer, was recently murdered by Polish officers, and his body was just found in the Wisla River, so the public rallied en masse to the cemeteries that year to use the All Souls Day tradition as a political statement to decry the murder of Popieluszko.  The entire cemetery was as bright as a wildfire with lit oil lamps and candles, and almost every grave site had some small gift of food and drink on it, no matter how old the grave marker.

In Poland, as in many other cultures, it's required that any plate of food put before you and any open bottle of vodka put on the table, must be finished; it's part of the bonding ritual for family and friends.  So, this "communion with the dead" was extremely moving, as it was a way to acknowledge the great sacrifice of the dead to the many causes of freedom that the Polish people have had to endure over the centuries.  That was probably the first and only time I've ever felt such a strong connection to my ancestors by way of the ritual of putting gifts on the graves.  To describe it as I've done doesn't capture the emotional and psychological gravity of the experience.  And that's why, I think, people continue to practice this tradition and tailor it to their personal emotional and psychological relationship to loved ones who have passed and to their own relationship to the grave.
If you want to end your misery, start enjoying it, because there's nothing the universe begrudges more than our enjoyment.