Articles and Features

Memorial Day

Week of May 24, 1998

This is one of the two holidays in the United States that worships the dead (Halloween being the other). I think about my culture with disdain regarding these holidays because most of the population wouldn't agree with the notion that Americans worship the dead. I live in a society that considers ancestor worship a barbaric and pagan rite, yet is obsessed with genealogy. I live in a society that preaches against making offerings to the dead, yet lays flowers on the graves of their loved ones. I live in a society that condemns the worship of the dead, yet holds elaborate and costly funerals and burials. I am ashamed of the duality of my culture. I believe that Memorial Day is an honorable and beautiful holiday and ancestor worship is an honorable and beautiful duty.

Memorial Day is a fairly recent occurrence (it started after the Civil War to commemorate the fallen heros), but ancestor worship is a practice that has been around since the dawn of man. Many consider it the first religion. So when you place the mums and lilies on the graves of your departed, feel a connection not only to them, but to the ages of humans who have experienced your loss as deeply as you do, from eons past.

Introduction and quote compilation by Laura S. Moncur, Staff Writer.

"Hail to you gods, on that day of the great reckoning. Behold me, I have come to you, without sin, without guilt, without evil, without a witness against me, without one whom I have wronged. I am one pure of mouth, pure of hands."
The Book of the Dead, The Address to the Gods, 1700-1000 B.C.
"Some families can trace their ancestors back three hundred years, but can't tell you where their children were last night."
"While you are not able to serve men, how can you serve spirits [of the dead]?...While you do not know life, how can you know about death?"
Confucius, The Confucian Analects, bk. 11:11
"To forget one's ancestors is to be a brook without a source, a tree without a root."
Chinese proverb
"When we lose one we love, our bitterest tears are called forth by the memory of hours when we loved not enough."
Maurice Maeterlinck, Wisdom and Destiny, 1898
"We simply rob ourselves when we make presents to the dead."
Publilius Syrus, Moral Sayings, First Century B.C.
"Heap not on this mound / Roses that she loved so well; / Why bewilder her with roses, / That she cannot see or smell?"
Edna St. Vincent Millay, "Epitaph," Second April, 1921
"As men, we are all equal in the presence of death."
Publilius Syrus, Moral Sayings, First Century B.C.
"Do not fear death so much, but rather the inadequate life."
Bertolt Brecht, The Mother, 1932
"Memorial Service - Farewell party for someone who has already left."
Robert Byrne
"After I'm dead I'd rather have people ask why I have no monument than why I have one."
Cato the Elder (234-149 B.C.)
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