Pyhäinpäivä

In Finland, the first Saturday of November is Pyhäinpäivä, or All Saint’s Day. It’s not easy to miss — all the shops close and public transport runs on the Sunday schedule. Aside from special church services, it is traditional to visit grave sites with candles and wreaths or boughs of evergreen. My friend Lloyd asked if I would like to go with him to visit his wife’s grave. I was happy to go.

It was my wife’s idea to visit the grave of Brother F in the same cemetery. Br. F was born the same month as President Hinckley. He was a pioneer member of the church in Finland, joining in the 1950s. He died last winter and his widow is too ill to visit his grave. I bought a candle and wrote out what I would say to her in Finnish from the grave site.

We got there at about 4:30 pm, and it was quite dark. The cemetery was full of people, solemn and purposeful.

We went to Brother F first. I called Sister F and told her I was at the cemetery and had just lit a candle on her husband’s grave. She asked, ‘Is it beautiful?’ I looked around at the candles dotting the hillside amid the trees and headstones. ‘It is beautiful,’ I said.
November_2007_pyhainpaiva2
Lloyd and I went on to his wife’s grave. She has been dead fifteen years, from cancer. He visits often. He lit the candle, and we stood together quietly. He asked, ‘Do you have anything to say?’ I understood him. I am the most actively religious person Lloyd knows, and he wanted me to recite something to the purpose, something scriptural. I tried to think of a scripture about death that had tucked into my memory. Instead, I recited a text memorized as an undergraduate in Eloise Bell’s English course many years ago:

‘Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world? No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.’ (John Donne, Meditation 17)

He nodded, satisfied. We stood quietly for a while, then walked out of the cemetery, through the darkness and past the candles lit by those who love the dead.


November_2007_pyhainpaiva

Like Ronan, I think there is great value in formally and even ritually remembering those who are dead. Aside from our understanding of resurrection and mansions of glory and eternal families, we honor the dead by missing them, by remembering what it was like to have them with us and grieving for their absence, however short that absence is in the eternal perspective. It connects us to our past, individually and collectively, and reminds us of the immense spiritual family to which we belong.

Comments

  1. wonderfully put. thank heavens for a ritual calendar. I think the LDS use Pioneer Day (sort of) in that way but agree that it’s great to bring in other traditions for such a holy and important event.

    Incidentally, this appears to be a major role for patriarchal blessings in the first decade or so. More on that later.

  2. I don’t visit the gravesites of my dead, but I remember them frequently as they were in life. And I speak to them too, sometimes. I hope they hear.

    This was a wonderful post.

  3. Beautiful sentiments, Norbert. I am happy your friend had someone to whom he could turn for comfort.

    I always have believed that the temple structure of vicarious work is meant in part to pay homage to the dead (to recognize and honor every child of God, no matter their worldly significance) and to keep us connected to our ancestors and all of humanity in a way that prevents us from adopting a social evolutionist’s natural arrogance. It is our own version of the Buddhist shrines in individual houses – our own way to include them in the greatest blessings of our lives. We visit the graves where their physical bodies were buried, but we also visit a place where we believe their living spirits can see us and attend us and sometimes communicate with us. It is our way of saying, “We have not forgotten you, and we will not let go.”

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    You and Ronan have convinced me–we should celebrate All Saints Day. Since this is unlikely to happen intitutionally, it is up to those of us who find this a meaningful observance to find a place for it in our own lives with our own loved ones.

  5. Thanks Norbert. This is wonderful. And I am impressed that you kept such a moving quotation memorized.

  6. Thanks for reminding me of this beautiful holiday in Finland. My mother is Finnish, and we used to celebrate Pyhäinpäivä by putting a candle on my Ukki’s grave.

  7. Thank you, Norbert, for a beautiful post.
    Though it isn’t celebrated as widely as All Saints Day appears to be in Europe, there is a sizable number of Americans who set aside Memorial Day as a day to remember their loved ones who’ve passed away. I see them every year at the Salt Lake Cemetery, placing a pot of flowers on the graves of their loved ones.
    As long as I can remember, when other families where vacationing or boating over Memorial Day Weekend, our extended family would visit the cemetery – first to see the graves of my great- and great-great grandparents. As time went on, the group that went got smaller, and the graves that we visited were more directly linked to me – my aunt, my father, my grandfather, my uncle, my grandmother. We stand at their graves and discuss memories of the deceased – it is one of my favorite family traditions.

  8. Harold Stuart says:

    I was a missionary in Finland many years ago, and remember well the candles on the graves. It was a solemn part of itsenäisyyspäivä (Finnish Independence Day), and it helped remind us of the tremendous sacrifices many people made that Finland could be free.

  9. Thanks everyone for the kind words. My intention in writing this was to give a sense of a spiritual experience which was deeply cultural but not necessarily mormon. And to mention an element of Finnish culture that doesn’t involve nudity.

  10. I think this is a beautiful tradition in Finland. I often go on Christmas Eve to the cemetery, but next year I will go on 1. Nov. as well. Finland has many wonderful, full-clothed traditions, especially as Christmas approaches. Keep writing about them for all us Finns here in the states!

  11. MNK,
    Lovely post.

    Off topic: I know you teach in a private school in Finland, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on Finnish public education, largely regarded to be the best in the world.

  12. P.S.

    How do you pronounce Pyhäinpäivä?

  13. Ronan–

    Finnish education is very good because society thinks its important, and puts its money and energy behind it. And it doesn’t function as the social services for the society because they have social services outside of the schools. There’s more to it than that, but that’s my quick assessment.

    I’m not a good enough phonetician to give the pronounciation. The Finnish y is like ‘oo’ but with a ‘ee’ to it, like the Dutch ‘uu’ if that helps. But roughly its ‘poo-hae-een-pae-ee-vae.’ That’s really rough, and I expect grief about it.

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