02 November 2014


American culture has no holiday or celebration that honors family members who have deceased. True, we have Memorial Day, as part of our "civil religion," that incorporates that holiday as a sacred day. However, the lack of a day to honor non-military family members is a cultural vacuum that could be filled by cultural borrowing, a phenomenon that has occurred throughout human history. Perhaps it is time for American culture--a culture constituted by borrowing--to borrow, again. This time to celebrate the dead.
A single culture does not furnish everything members of that culture might profitably use and psychically need. An example is Japan--a very group-oriented society--which had no group-oriented, national sport, only sumo wrestling, an individualistic one. This is the reason, I believe, that baseball, a group sport of teamwork, filled a social, and psychic, vacuum in Japan.
When I lived in Taiwan for a year, I visited the home of one of my college students for Tomb Sweeping Day, an annual, national holiday when everything shuts down and Taiwanese return to their ancestral family homes for family reunions. The second day we went to the large, town cemetery to clean the family grave site, explode long skeins of firecrackers (to chase away evil spirits), and picnic.The family ancestors were remembered and celebrated. The generations of the living connected to the generations of the past.
In this regard, Mexico might have the cultural complex that America could borrow and modify: the holiday in central and southern Mexico known as el Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead). It is a two-day holiday in which the gates of heaven are opened and the spirits of the deceased return to reunite with their living families. In Indian villages, altars are constructed and decorated in each home. Toys and candy are left for the "angelitos," the spirits of deceased children. On November 2, the festivities are taken to the cemeteries, with cleaning tombs, playing cards, listening to village bands, and reminiscing about loved ones.
A contrarian view might conclude that America does not have such a holiday due to its presentist worldview: We honor only the presently living and think mostly about the future. For American culture, the past (as in events) may not be dead, according to Faulkner (since the present is the culmination of past events)--except for the people who have passed. This is our vacuum.

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