Monday, February 18, 2013

In Lieu of Presidents' Day*...

********Just so you know, before we begin, we started writing this back in November. Better late than never, eh?********

We actually have NOTHING against Presidents' Day, but it is not the holiday this post is about.

Nick had his first official holiday off Friday, Nov. 2.  Let's see if you can guess what it was for....

...Nope, not Columbus Day, it case you missed it, that was October 8th this year. Consequently, Nick didn't get Columbus Day off at the Territorial Supreme Court level. We can only assume the Federal Court did, as it is a Federal Holiday. Also, Columbus did not, in any sense of the word, "discover" Guam, so we suppose not celebrating Columbus Day makes sense.

...Nope, not Halloween, that was on the Wednesday before.

...Obviously not Election Day....Tuesday, November 6, 2012.

...Nope, not Veteran's Day, that isn't* until November 11.

* Future tense made sense when we started writing this post, not so much by the time we finished it.

....hmmmm.... well that does it for all the well known holidays and observances, right?

C'mon you can do it, we have faith in you...hint, hint....

Give up?

File:William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) - The Day of the Dead (1859).jpg
The Day of the Dead (1859) by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Oil on Canvas
Friday, November 2, 2012 was All Soul's Day. On the U.S. mainland you might recognize this holiday better by the celebrations of our neighbors to the south, Mexico, as Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).

Jose Guadalupe Posada's original 'La Calavera Catrina,' circa 1910.
Jose Guadalupe Posada's original "La Calavera Catrina," circa 1910.
credit: Courtesy Mexican Museum Photo: Courtesy Mexican Museum
Jose Guadalupe Posada's original "La Calavera Catrina", circa 1910.
Before we get into how the day is celebrated on Guam, we'd like to give you a short history of the holiday (or holy day if you will).

A traditional Irish turnip Jack-o'-lantern 
from the early 20th century.
 Photographed at the Museum of Country Life, Ireland.
We must venture back many years to ancient Ireland to the festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-en or sa-win). Samhain is a Celtic harvest festival and is mentioned in Irish literature from a very early date.  Celebrated during the time of the last harvest, Samhain was when animals were moved from summer pastures, and slaughtered for winter stores. It marked the change in the seasons, the beginning of winter in the Celtic calendar.  Samhain was also thought to be a time of year when the wall (or veil or door or barrier) to the afterlife became very thin and opened enough for the souls of the dead, as well a other beings, to enter our world. During the feasting, the souls of dead kin were invited to attend and places were set for them at the table.  While it was nice to dine with the souls of your departed friends and family, it was believed that harmful spirits came back on this night as well.  People employed different methods of protecting themselves from the evil spirits, including: dressing up in costumes and masks to trick the spirits and hide their identity, leaving offerings of appeasement outside the entrance to their home, and burning bonfires and carving lanterns from turnips to keep evil souls away.
(for the night is dark and full of terrors)

Enter the Catholic Church.

We will say this for the early Church: it was exceptionally talented at converting many people to the faith by incorporating, adopting, and assimilating many practices from the pagan traditions it encountered. In order to promote the conversion and ease the transition of pagans in Ireland to Christianity, the early Church looked at the Celtic harvest festival of Samhain and thought, "hmmm...we can work with that."  Thus, Hallowmas was established in the 8th century AD.  The word Hallowmas is derived from two words: the Old English word halig, meaning "saint," and the word "mass." The words "hallow" and "saint" are synonyms. Hallowmas, also known as the Triduum of All Hallows (Triduum of All Saints), is the three day triduum (three day religious observance), comprised of the observances of All Hallows' Eve (Halloween), All Saints' Day (All Hallows') and All Soul's Day, which take place from October 31 to November 2 each year.

All Hallows' Eve (Halloween) literally means it is the eve (day) before All Hallows' (Saints') Day. This is the first day of the Hallowmas triduum and was celebrated by adopting many of the traditions and practices of Samhain (see above). Eventually, these practices evolved into the modern day practices of trick or treating, jack o'lantern carving, and costume donning that we all know and love today.

All Hallows' Day (All Saints Day) is the second day of the Hallowmas triduum and is is a holy day to honor all the saints and martyrs, both known and unknown.  In the Catholic Church it is a Holy Day of Obligation (a day when Catholics are obligated to go to Mass, others include: Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, Christmas, etc).  According to some scholars, a similar feast day was celebrated in the Church in the month of May as early as the 5th century.  The feast day was moved to November 1 in the 8th century by Pope Gregory III to help comprise the Hallowmas triduum.

All Souls' Day is the third, and final, day of the Hallowmas triduum. This day is also know as the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed.  It is a day to celebrate, remember, honor, and pray for all of our departed friends and family. How well does that fit with the old Samhain tradition of having dinner with your dead family? You win, Catholic Church, you always do....Currently, in many places, the celebrations of All Saints' Day and All Soul's Day have become enmeshed and celebrated jointly on November 1.  This is not the case in the Catholic Western Pacific in areas like the Philippines, and Guam who saw early colonization by the Spanish.

Traditionally, All Soul’s Day is observed solemnly by visiting the graves of deceased relatives, offering prayers and flowers, lighting candles, cleaning and repairing the graves.  Some families spend the day picnicking and holding reunions at the cemetery near their loved ones. In the Philippines, some family get-togethers at the cemetery include entertainment and all night parties.  Many sing, bring Karaoke TV sets and musical instruments, and even burst fire crackers. In fact, for the past few years, the government has banned bringing of liquor, sharp instruments, and guns due to incidents of drunkenness and resulting violence during the festival.

In most, if not all, of the cemeteries on Guam, Mass is celebrated.

The bulletin from the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral Basilica
with Mass times for All Souls' Day.
Christians who celebrate All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day do so in the fundamental belief that there is a prayerful spiritual bond between those in purgatory (the 'Church Suffering'), those in heaven (the 'Church triumphant'), and the living (the 'Church militant').  With this belief, it totally make sense to go to the cemetery where your loved ones are buried to pray for their souls.  And according to the Bible, in Matthew 18:18-20, Jesus said, “In truth I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. In truth I tell you once again, if two of you on earth agree to ask anything at all, it will be granted to you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three meet in my name, I am there among them.”  If this is what you believe, then instead of everyone going to the cemeteries and praying individually, wouldn't it be more powerful and effective to all pray in unison?  Indeed.  And the most powerful form of prayer? Mass.  Clearly, Guam Catholics have this all figured out.  Amanda suggests us U.S. mainlander Catholics jump on the bandwagon because she has a feeling that the souls of the Guam Catholics' departed friends and family are making it through Purgatory and getting to Heaven faster and with more efficiency than ours.  In all seriousness, Catholic friends from the U.S. mainland, when was the last time you attended a rosary for a deceased friend or family member?  It happens ALL THE TIME here.  Amanda sometimes suffers bouts of guilt while back on the U.S. mainland for being a "bad Catholic", that guilt has magnified 1,000 times since we've been here.  (Nick has no such pangs of guilt).  But we digress.....

Since All Souls' Day is an official holiday on Guam, and we knew the traditional way to celebrate here was to go to Mass in the cemetery, we decided when in Rome... 

We attended Mass at Pigo Catholic Cemetery. 
This is a huge, beautiful cemetery with many above ground crypts, in addition to in-ground burials.  At the front entrance of the cemetery (and all along the front) are 20-foot tall marble statues of Jesus and his Apostles.  

pigo catholic cemetery
Legend has it that, at night, the statues come alive, frighten miscreants, and sometimes switch places for
the following day (citation needed)
It is situated right across the street from the beach and overlooks the ocean.  In all, not a bad place to spend eternity. We don't think we grasped just how big of an event we were headed to.  We left our apartment with just enough time to make it to the cemetery in time for Mass, not taking into account traffic or anything else.  When we arrived at the cemetery, all parking within the gates was full and reserved for the Man'amko (senior citizens) or the handicapped (duh, what were we expecting??).  We ended up parking about a quarter mile down the road and having to walk back to the cemetery.  Luckily, the Guam Police Department was out in force to help direct traffic and facilitate crossing Marine Corps Drive (Guam's very busy main drag).  Needless to say, Mass had already started by the time we entered the front gate. And what a sight we beheld upon entering.

This was taken after Mass, when people have already began to leave.  Imagine twice the number of people you see here.
Thousands of people were dispersed among the graves and crypts.  People were gathered in family groups near their deceased family members or family crypts.  

This was taken after Mass, when people have already began to leave.  Imagine twice the number of people you see here.
It was clear that many people had already been at the cemetery for quite some time.  Some groups had canopies set up, many had brought their camping-type chairs (canvas folding chairs), and most had golf sized umbrellas for shade. We had none of these things. There was a huge canopy/tent/make-shift alter set up in the center of the cemetery.  

Again taken after Mass was celebrated, but you can see the alter still set up under the canopy.
The folding chairs were for Mass celebrants, the choir, the man'amko, and members of holy orders (i.e. nuns, friars, etc).
A sound system amplified the voice of the archbishop as he said Mass. We were handed a small sheet of paper with the songs (some in English and some in Chamorro) for the celebration.

Jesukristo and korason were about the only Chamorro words
we were able to figure out.
Luckily, we were able to find a shady spot near a crypt and a low retaining wall so we were able to sit.  We did receive a few weird looks, as it was obvious we probably didn't have any dead relatives in the cemetery and had no clue what we were doing.  But for the most part it was a very unique and memorable experience.  Amanda found it to be one of the most moving, spiritual, meaningful, significant, and awesome experiences she has ever had.  She was really moved and kind of amped up following the Mass. It is definitely a tradition she wishes she could take part in every year.

*The name of this post is derived from the fact that Nick got All Souls' Day off as an official holiday, but NOT Presidents' Day.

While this post is a bit on the late side (3.5 months, if you're counting), we hope it nonetheless gives you some insight into the cultural and religious practices of our temporary home.  We intend to provide you with another post soon (we swear!) on the other unique religious holiday on Guam, the Feast of Our Lady of Kamalen.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post even if belated.

    If it assuages your Catholic guilt, there are only six Holy Days of Obligation in the U.S.: Jan. 1 (the Solemnity of Mary; when I was a kid, it was celebrated as the Circumcision), the Ascension (40 days after Easter), the Assumption (Aug. 15), Nov. 1 (All Saints Day), Dec. 8 (Immaculate Conception) and Dec. 25 (you know what).

    You didn't have to go to Mass on Ash Wednesday, but you should've fasted and refrained from eating meat. The same goes for Good Friday, but that doesn't mean you can't tell your boss that you've got to be out from noon to 3 p.m. so you can go to church.

    The Pope