By Adeline Lefebvre
I would like to share with you a highlight I had during my experience in Canada: the Feast of the Ancestors. I had the joy of passing on this celebration last year with friends in the Drôme, sweet and beautiful memories. Maybe you'll want to celebrate it this year .
The Feast of The Ancestors: November 1st has never been a landmark holiday for me. A holiday, a fat morning. Chrysanthemums, a visit to the cemetery and a disturbing feeling of lack of authenticity, repeated gestures over generations that have lost their true dimension. The grayness of an autumnal sky adding to the coldness of the cemetery, a melancholy that made me appreciate the return to school the next day. I never really realized the meaning of this festival until this year.
Last Sunday, I participated in the most beautiful feast of the dead of my life: the feast of the Ancestors. I found this celebration so beautiful that I want to share it and if it makes you want to organize it, then I'm delighted... and your ancestors probably are too!
Here's how the evening went. We are each invited to cook a dish and bring photos or objects that remind us of the ancestor/s we wish to honor (family or other close person). I cooked the iconic four-quarter of my great Aunt Emilia that she used to cook when we came to visit her when I was little. For me, the four-quarter is simply inseparable from his person. The idea is to cook our Proust madeleines, so to speak. Once arrived, we place our dishes on a large table and indicate on a paper the name of our dish, the ingredients, its origin and the name of our family.
A little further on is the table of ancestors where the photos and memorabilia of our ancestors are grouped together. We dwell on the clichés, making riddles on the faces we think we recognize. I put down a few rhododendrons that remind me of the beautiful shrub that was at the entrance of my Great Aunt's house.
Next door is a large branch of cedar, the sacred tree of the first peoples of North America, a true symbol for this feast, on which everyone hangs a small paper on which he will have written the name of the ancestor/s that he wishes to celebrate tonight. I am talking about ancestors, but this is anyone who has passed away today and who has meant a lot to us in our lives, who has inspired us, it can be a friend, a mentor. We gather around a wood fire. The evening begins with a circle of gratitude where space is given to each person, in turn, to share what he/she feels grateful for right now.
Then we sing « Ancestors Sky people » :
Ancestors Sky people all here today Hear my heart's song Hear my respect Hear my love Hear my grateful tears fall We are truly blessed Whouhouu We are truly blessed
Then, while a sweet melody is played on the guitar, we are invited to pronounce the names of the ancestors we honor tonight, in popcorn mode. The emotion is total, the names with exotic accents burst into the sky, sometimes mixing, creating exchanges of amused glances, the feeling that the ancestors are there, among us and dancing joyfully above the heat of the flames. A moment of touching beauty where depth finds its source in an astonishing simplicity, as is often the case. Presence, intimacy.
The tenderness in our glances, we read the importance that these people mentioned had in the eyes of others by the emotion that is in their corners. We then gather around the tables. Everyone is invited to tell the particular flavour that the cooked dish has for them, the special story that represents the prepared dish. Memories of shared complicity... that put water in our mouths. The originality of this meal is to serve a small part of each dish, no matter if the apple pie of the great uncle straddles the gratin of Grandma and the whole is bathed in the stew of Irish ancestors, that's the game!
A fireworks display of ancestral flavours from all over the world that we take the time to enjoy with each bite, in full awareness of the honour of tasting recipes passed down for generations. A unique and fun experience. The opportunity to question other guests about their origins, listen to their anecdotes or memories that still resonate…
Finally, we meet around the fire in which a child lays the plate reserved for the ancestors: a portion of each dish placed on a large cedar bark. A symbol of gratitude in return for all they have brought us. The tree of ancestors is in turn set on fire, the little papers are gradually igniting before our eyes. Popcorn again: each person says "Thank you" in their native language or according to their desire. We end the evening with songs.
Thus, for the first time, I fully felt the significance of this traditional festival, which finally celebrates life above all else. Death is part of life and in my opinion it should not be separated as it is in our society. I love the idea of celebrating with joy those who have died.
I took great pleasure in cooking the mythical four-quarter of my great aunt. As far as I can remember, this is the first time I have prepared a cake with such presence. I remembered the time I spent with her and felt a lot of gratitude for all she brought me. Besides, she made this cake and served it with tea when my family met on November 1st at her house. I encourage you to organize a Feast of the ancestors, with family or friends because... at some point in our lives, we have all been fortunate to have received the love and support of our ancestors—a great parent, parent, uncle, cousin or someone else who has gone before us—either in our lives or through passed on stories. Although they may no longer be there in our daily lives, we can remember them and recreate that feeling of sweetness and support. By doing so, we open up and reconnect to our roots, to others and to Life.
Wishing you a joyful Feast of the Ancestors!