As one year closes and another opens, New Year is a suitable time for reflection. New Year is a time of both celebration and of sadness. Its good to celebrate the future and face it with a sense of hope. Time is so fleeting and precious it seems somewhat foolish to squander it. However, it can be sad to feel time pushing us further away from deceased loved ones. At Christmas and New Year, I always make a point of visiting my local graveyard. Not because I have anyone buried there, I simply like looking at Christmas wreaths left as a token of remembrance and quietly acknowledging the past.
With this in mind, I got to wondering if there were any traditions of visiting graveyards at New Year as a way of paying respects to the deceased. There appears to be no documented accounts of visiting graveyards at New Year in the UK. However, I did find in the city of Talca, Chile, people spend New Year’s Eve in the company of their deceased relatives. Food and drinks are brought, small fires are lit, and graves are decorated as a way of ensuring loved ones are included in the festivities. This tradition is a relatively new one. It’s said back in 1995 a family jumped the graveyard wall to visit their father’s grave on New Year’s Eve. The mayor was meant to be so touched by the family’s sentiment that he decided to open the graveyard gates every New Year’s Eve.
I also discovered that in China paying respects to the deceased or ancestors is a vital part of Chinese culture. The Chinese New Year (Feb 5th), is an opportunity for people to pay homage to their ancestors. Possessions, property, homes and land may have been passed down through the generations and New Year is a time to pay respects and gives thanks. This gratitude is displayed by visiting graves on the first day of the Chinese New Year. Graves are cleaned up, food is offered, incense is burnt, and fireworks are lit to chase away any evil spirits. After every grave has been visited, all the food will be taken home where a feast will happen. In some Chinese homes photographs of relatives is hung in the main room of the house. On a monthly basis these photographs will be cleaned, food will be offered, and incense will be burnt.
I am sure some people will find these traditions morbid or just plain strange and death and the deceased shouldn’t be recognised outside Halloween or funerals. However, I personally think paying respects to people gone before us, especially loved ones, is vital. Yes, it is sad they are no longer with us, but this fact should not be ignored. They were an integral part of lives at one point and why should this stop after they have died?
Happy New Year and maybe this could be the year to have a quiet moment and give respects to the people no longer with you.