Written by ZoomZoom on 29 Nov, 2004
It's a huge cemetery, with its own roads and paths, but there are few street lamps among the trees, and in the darkness, the only way the crowds of people can make their way about is by the light of thousands of candles that have…Read More
It's a huge cemetery, with its own roads and paths, but there are few street lamps among the trees, and in the darkness, the only way the crowds of people can make their way about is by the light of thousands of candles that have been placed on the graves.
Most people are in family groups, though there are a few ones and twos, and they have all come to leave flowers, wreaths, and lighted candles on the graves of grandparents, mothers, teachers, cousins, and neighbours. It's a mild evening with no breeze, and the warm scent of melting candle wax and autumn leaves fills the cool air. Voices are subdued. There is no shouting or laughing. There are everyday conversations, remembrances, and practical advice about where to position the lights and flowers and how to clear dried leaves from the stones in the dark. Many have brought their children, and if it weren't for the location, it would look almost like a Christmas scene, with the thousands of red, orange, and pure white lights flickering among the trees. It's not maudlin or sinister -- it's All Saints Day in Hungary.
Roadside stalls have been selling flowers, wreaths, and small candle lamps for a couple of weeks. The peak days for placing them on the graves of relatives and friends are 31 October and 1 November, but many travel for miles to visit the various cemeteries where their loved ones lie and have to begin earlier. The wreaths and flowers are big business, and every year, there are stories of freshly laid remembrances disappearing the following day, to be resold or simply re-used, though the stories are mostly second- or third-hand.
I remember the first time I saw a gravestone on which the surviving spouse's name and birth date had been inscribed, followed by a dash and then the blank and polished surface of granite, awaiting a final appointment. I saw a widow in the village cemetery of Ivan, laying flowers on her husband's grave, and I could see that her name was already on the stone below his. It seemed shocking to me that she would be walking around the village, shopping, visiting friends, and all the time her name was inscribed on a gravestone in the cemetery at the end of the road. Later, I felt differently. It is a recognition of our temporary status and a simple statement that our companions in life are also those that we wish to stay with when we have gone.
In the Gyor cemetery, there are huge crowds milling about, going to or coming from graves, seeking out the path markers which will help them locate the tombs of relatives less frequently visited. Almost every grave has at least one small candle lamp or a chrysanthemum bloom laid across the stone. Those with none are the exception, and you can't help feeling sad that no one has come or no family members are left to remember them. Some sites are ringed by small tea lights, glittering in the darkness. Another has a group of candles marked out in the shape of a heart. Relatives examine the wreaths left by others to see which cousins or uncles have come before them to pay their respects. After arranging the flowers and lights, each group stands in silent prayer for a few moments before moving on.
It's not a happy occasion, of course, but at the same time, it seems much more a part of daily life than what I have grown up to expect. I express surprise at the numbers and ask questions about how and when and why. Marti, in return, asks, "How do you remember your dead?". I tell her that my mother's parents were cremated, their ashes scattered on a garden of remembrance in the cemetery, and that a book inscribed with their names is open, where their details appear once a year. I explain that I have never been to visit. The only time I have visited one of my grandparent’s graves was a small military cemetery in Holland, near where my father's father was killed in the retreat to Dunkirk in 1941. I had never met him, but being able to see the simple stone with his name on it made me able to feel closer to him, as it does for these groups making their way home along the paths, between the fields of flickering lights and the autumn trees.