November 1st is my favorite holiday in Slovakia. During All Saint’s Day, Slovaks return home. Entire families parade through cemeteries, graves are blanketed in flowers, candles are lit. It’s a day to remember deceased family members. Babies in strollers, grandmothers with canes and every one in between flock to the cemetery to pay their respects. For an American, it’s reminiscent of our Thanksgiving – a holiday to spend with family, take a contemplative break from the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives.
Most of my friends returned home to visit the cemeteries of their village. Although it isn’t a holiday with a specific menu or meal, shared meals are no doubt a part of the holiday as cousins, aunts, uncles, parents and grandparents gather together. Slovaks, like much of the modern world, no longer are born, live and die in the same village. Many of those
living in Bratislava have come here for a better job from other parts of the country. Bratislava is quiet this week as those Slovaks travel home.
For some who couldn’t return home, they gather in a Bratislava cemetery lighting a candle at the central monument. It’s quiet. People are reflective, somber. As American’s, of course we think of our loved ones. I tend to most remember those who have died far too young, my husband’s best friend, Steve, or my son, Michael’s, friend, Megan. Memories float through our minds, perhaps prompted by a favorite song or food. Elvis Presley singing “I’ll be Home for Christmas” will always remind me of my father. None of us can watch the Detroit Tigers or eat black crows without thinking of my husband’s father, “Skippy”.
I find the thought of a collective day of remembrance comforting; stopping together to put down our tools and just reminisce. I’m sure there will be laughter as a favorite uncle is remembered or an eccentric cousin. There will also, no doubt, be tears. The fleeting thoughts of the deceased come unbidden throughout the year. But those thoughts don’t replace the need to stop what we’re doing and remember collectively as a society.
On this All Saint’s Day we visited Igor and Vlasta’s home for dinner with their two children. It was a wonderful evening – great food, laughter, conversation. They have become a special part of our lives. It was a cold and rainy day. They will visit their family graves over the long weekend as the weather improves. We were honored to be a part of this very special day. Their small apartment is typical of the average Slovak home. We ate on the kitchen table which had been relocated to the living room. Then, we carried the table back to make room to gather in the living room. The board game, Scrabble, is tucked under their coffee table. They mentioned that they play it as a family most nights.
It’s the life of a family without the possibility of hiding in their respective corners of a rambling home. Perhaps it’s this very physical closeness that makes those who have left that much more noticed, missed and remembered.
Friends posted on this blog, “Although separated by language, you and Pat have acquired and absorbed a uniquely Slavic quality from your neighbors. Please continue to share a little Bratislava wherever life takes you.” I love that advice. As we daisy chain thru our adventures, the best of each place will hopefully stay with us. Our most special friends will live in our hearts as will these memories of a shared holiday. And each November 1st, let me be Slovak again as I remember the people no longer with me who have left their fingerprints on my life.
Categories: Insiders Bratislava