Since time immemorial, humans have experienced feelings of warm attachment not only to parents, siblings and close family, but also to the generations of family members who preceded us. The love and respect we hold for both the living and the departed are the basis of strong families and caring communities, and ultimately, they are what bind us as a society.
Around the world and across the centuries, numerous cultures have formed traditions to remember and honor family ancestors. In Mexico, the Day of the Dead is celebrated on November 1. In Ancient Rome, an annual nine-day celebration was held to honor the spirits of the ancestors. In the present day, such traditions flourish in most Asian countries, some of which set aside a day each year to venerate their forebears. In China, they call it Qingming festival. Ancestors Day is celebrated 15 days after the Spring Equinox and is the climax of a 2 week celebration when it’s believed that the ghosts of the departed walk the Earth. On or near April 15, the World’s most populous nation pauses to observe a status holiday, when young and old show respect by tidying and decorating their ancestors’ tombs. This tradition has been in practice for 2,500 years!
It is a time when the living remember and pay tribute to their ancestors, by meditation, prayer and by making offerings to those who have become trapped in the spirit world. In order to help these detained spirits overcome their bad karma and guide them back into the cycle of reincarnation, family members offer food and money to them so that they will watch over the ancestral family. Relatives color eggs, have picnics and fly kites during Qing Ming to celebrate the rebirth of nature – the cycle of reincarnation.
Here in North America, many Native People actively nurture age-old celebrations that pay tribute to their ancestors. Some European North Americans celebrate their ancestors in private, on days meaningful to them. Others have adopted the practice of commemorating their ancestors on Memorial Day (in the USA) or Remembrance Day (in Canada). Both are statutory holidays honouring the men and women who died serving in the military. It’s easy to see why some folks would choose to pay tribute to their ancestors on these special days.
The connection between the living and the dead was maintained through rituals connected to the burial place like sacrifice of objects, food and drink. Usually the graves were placed close to the dwelling of the family and the ancestors were regarding as protecting the house and its inhabitants against bad luck and bestowing fertility. Thus ancestor worship was of crucial importance to survival and there are signs that it continued up until modern times in isolated areas. Ancestor worship was also an element in the blot feasts, where memorial toasts to the deceased were part of the ritual.
Ancestor Appreciation Day, September 27, is a day to learn more about our ancestors and our past so that we can preserve our family history for future generations. Knowing where you came from and who your ancestors were can give you insight into your family’s values and traditions and perhaps even make you appreciate how far you family has come.
Celebrate Ancestor Appreciation Day by spending time with your relatives, who can probably tell you more about your family history. Even if you're adopted or fostered, talk with your current members; their stories now include you and you are their family. Ancient Norse homes often had a mix of families living under one roof - children, parents, grandparents, servants or workers all lived together. Ancestor ritual focuses on the strength of family ties, both blood and spiritual. The internet can be a wonderful tool when it comes to researching genealogy and various online resources will help you to find records of your family’s history, learn about your ancestors and their way of life and even create a detailed family tree. Ask a few questions, let them tell stories and find out about previous generations that way.
I use September 2 to honor my Ancestors, my father's birthday. I visit his grave and on my altar to my ancestors, I have pictures of family members, personal belongings of those who have passed, books on my family's history and other items that remind me of certain ancestors. Everything that I am; everything that I will ever be and everything that I could have become, was handed down to me through countless generations of ancestral blood relations. Thank You Ancestors!
Whatever date you choose - there are many ways to honor your Ancestors:
- Gather together, pack picnic lunches and go to cemeteries to honor the memories
- Altars include colored tissue ribbons, flowers, photos of the dead and candles
- Stop at the cemetery to clean up headstones and leave a small token or offering in tribute
- Take time to meditate, connect and honor them
- Visit the graves of your ancestors and pour a libation of wine (or their favorite drink) at the headstone
- Research and build a family tree - writing down stories for the next generation
- Make offerings of food and mead at a gravesite - perhaps even reciting your lineage back as far as you can (Hail to my ancestor, Andrew son of James, son of Ingrid, daughter of Mary, etc...)
- A Samhain cemetery visit to honor your family
All Hail those who came before us!
All Hail our ancestors, one and all!
All Hail our ancestors, one and all!