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Day of the Dead

Candles and chrysanthemums on hillside graves


The number of kids coming to my door to get their Halloween treats trickled down to only one last year. So today, instead of keeping my light on outside and letting in the cold through the half-opened door, I will turn the light low, pull the shades shut, fill a mug with hot-mulled wine and reminisce about my youth’s October 31st.

“Halottak Napja” in Hungary--the Day of the Dead.

It is early afternoon, and the lines in front of the little flower shop are growing longer by the minute. The skies are gray and heavy with moisture, but it is not raining yet. It is as if the clouds are holding back the tears until this evening. The beautiful wreaths, made of white chrysanthemums and nothing else, were ordered weeks before and now busy people, dressed in all their winter garb, candles and matches tucked in their pockets, scurry with their scented treasures to the hilltop cemetery. The town air is redolent of the resinous scent of the mums. When the church bell chimes for the evening mass, everyone piles into the two village churches to pray and hear a well-remembered sermon, while our senses soak up Mozart’s Requiem coming from the tall, silver pipes of the organ.

After mass everyone walks to the dressed-up cemetery, and under the cover of darkness light the many candles on the graves. Some of the graves have headstones of beautiful black marble with chiseled gold lettering, some only have half-sunken wooden cross that almost concealed by weeds. Then there are the paupers' graves tucked in a corner on the upper most level, behind the little chapel. Very few of those graves ever had flowers decorating the nameless mounds. But this evening all the graves have candles flickering, and if not a wreath, a small bouquet of white mums can be seen everywhere. As we walk around on the gravel path, visiting the graves of all our dead relatives, a quiet peace settles on us, and we turn inward to bring up private memories, both happy and sad.

After we shake hands and give out hugs we solemnly walk home. We open the drapes in the dark living room and look in quiet amazement at the thousands of candles still flickering in the cemetery up on the hill.

Now, as I sit in my dark room, I’m painfully aware of the many miles that keep me from visiting my hometown on this Day of the Dead. A large, potted white chrysanthemum is scenting the air around me, and I lit a candle in reverence of all my loved ones who are not here anymore, but who are in my thoughts on this special day.

Marika Ujvari, a writer living in Windsor, Colorado, is a frequent visitor to Nantucket.