Last year I enjoyed the Lantern Walk with our Waldorf school, but I had no context or understanding of its meaning. I assumed any festival that ended in “mas” (Martinmas, Michaelmas) was too “Euro” to have anything to do with me.
But this week I got it, a meaning that I totally relate to.
I’ve heard that Martinmas, or La Fiesta de San Martin, is about lighting a spark within us that will keep us strong in the dark months ahead. It’s about doing good for others as we prepare for the season of Advent. I love to explore the emotional effect that the seasons have on us, and how our spirituality reflects nature. But still, this didn’t inspire me so much. I’ve already got Chanukah, right?
Yesterday I read something profound, and on the heels of celebrating Día de los Muertos, which overlays Christian traditions on Aztec ones, it took on a new meaning for me, brought things together. So often these things just sound like nice, flowery words to me, but suddenly, something makes it concrete; it comes to life.
A friend of a friend passed on a packet of Spanish materials on la Fiesta del Farol, the Lantern Festival:
En el correr del año nos encontramos con estas fiestas que despiertan en nosotros el anhelo de comprender mas allá, ahondando en nuestros propios limites internos.
Se nos presenta en esta época del año la oportunidad de despertar una fuerza interna que nos ayude a dar forma, a construir un sol interior.
Not so new . . . at this time of year we have the opportunity to awaken our internal forces, to build our internal sun. As nature dies back, we carry the strength and courage of the summer solstice inside ourselves as we approach the dark and the cold of winter. It was the first line that caught me — these festivals awaken in us the desire to understand what is beyond this world, deepening in our own internal limits.
I will paraphrase; the piece said . . . colloquially we talk about returning from vacation, coming back to school, returning to work. This is simply the moment to face new challenges, new difficulties, new situations. We need to make decisions and find resolution . . . Wow, this is so real for me, with worries about whether being in school is best for my daughter, when starting school after a calming summer at home.
“Comienza el tiempo de interiorizacíon.” It is the time for being internal. This is what the Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur also talk about . . . a time to be at one with yourself, to look inside and see what kind of person you are, what you are made of. How you can do better.
The piece goes on . . . This month is made up of the festivals of the dead, “celebraciones para nuestros difuntos.”
This is true across so many traditions — Celtic, Latin American, Christian, Jewish. This year dear friends shared with us their Día de los Muertos traditions. Mama of this family led us in colorful crafts, her own beautiful personal expression, that evoked loved ones who have passed on and recalled traditions her own ancestors repeated year after year . . . altars, calaveras, marigolds, pan de muerto, chocolate, picnicking with the dead. As I walked with la Abuela of the family, surrounded by murals of culture and resistance painted during her youth, I felt comforted by the elders, the ancestors, a history of spirit and strength.
My husband’s family is from Ecuador where October and November are also the season of the dead, dating back to their pre-Colombian traditions, too. People are born with the corn and the time of death is when the corn is harvested. In spite of climate, day length, and seasons all their own, there, too, now is the time to commemorate and visit with the dead. Traditional foods colada morada and guaguas de pan were once part of that ritual.
De cualquier manera cuales quieran sean nuestras creencias, convicciones o posicionamientos personales todos nos sentimos alguna vez delante de los dos mundos con anhelo de crear y renovar lazos entre esos dos mundos, el de los vivos y el de los muertos. . . . el continuar nutriendo nuestro espíritu con personas influyentes del propio pasado. La vida interior nos pone delante de preguntas existenciales — Quien soy? Como soy? Que significa la muerte?
Basically . . . No matter what our beliefs, we all feel ourselves in some way to be in front of these two worlds, with the desire to make connections between the world of the dead and the world of the living. We nourish our spirits with important people from our pasts. Our ancestors. Our internal life presents us with the existential questions — who am I? How am I? What does death mean?
For me, during pregnancy, birth, and mothering young children, the veil between this world and the other world has often thinned. Our children live in that dreamy world, like another universe. They have an instinctive understanding of the other world. My daughter commented this week that her little brother was with the dead before he came to us. I feel myself connected through my children to a dreamy, other-world of spirits. A bigger universe with a greater meaning.
In our fast-paced, modern, hyper-technological lives, the world of the spirits often seems out-dated, primitive, something from our medieval past, something modern science has disproved. Even in my exposure to religion I’ve heard stories, sermons, and prayers but little about the mystical aspects of the other world.
But this is what I feel as the days grow shorter and we spend more of our time in darkness or in sleep. The hardship of the cold, the mental toughness required to face the darkness. We have to face ourselves, who we are inside. Our ancestors and abuelos are nearby to guide us. If we have few elders in our lives it may be those who have passed who provide us with guidance in challenging moments.
A spiritual friend said to me once, “Just talk to your grandmother. Ask her.” What?? I thought, I can’t just call her on the phone anymore. “Walk to the top of the hill, look out at the Bay, and talk to her.” Easy as that. The other world is not so far away as we think.
So, here I am, delving into the meaning this time of year has for me. But how to express such big things to children? So hard to talk about death and darkness, yet so easy at the same time. The Lantern Walk, simple. As I carry with me all the meaning I feel, I walk through a simple ritual with the children, one that expresses light in the darkness, and ourselves in our community. And they will totally get it! Chanukah too, has the same meaning. A ritual song, lighting the lights, giving of ourselves.
They will get it.