Thursday November 1 was All Saints Day. This is a wonderful holiday here on the island, where almost nothing is open and almost everyone stays home and the island is quiet…. until dusk. Wikipedia lists All Saints Day as: “a day of remembering saints, known and unknown”. The next day, November 2nd, is known as All Souls Day, which “specifically commemorates the departed faithful who have not yet been purified and reached heaven.” If you ask me, it’s all a bit of a mish-mash between the 2 days. How do we know who has and has not been purified or reached heaven? Why not just celebrate those who have departed along with saints & do it all on the same day? Apparently the good people of St. Barthelemy agree. November 1 the island celebrates it all at once.
I think St. Barth has the most beautiful cemeteries that I have ever seen. They are simple and very well-kept; Instead of grass with coffins 6 feet underground -we are in the Caribbean at sea level, let’s not forget- There are crushed shells and sand everywhere and above ground, almost pristine white individual crypts, some with tiles, or little white picket fences, or conch shells from the ocean surrounding them.
I’m not a local; I don’t know anyone buried in any of our 4 island cemeteries, but since I’ve lived here, I’ve enjoyed going down at night and soaking in the ambience. A week ago, a friend of mine told me he likes to go each year to put candles on some of the graves that have been “forgotten” about (or maybe they were the last in their family line?). I loved this idea and offered to go with him. Since I have many family members who have passed on, it did me good to light a candle & do a little mental remembrance of my own to honor my mother, all 4 grandparents, other relatives and many friends.
Here’s how All Saints Day works on this island:
In the days leading up to Nov 1, the stores stock small areas with very colorful bouquets of plastic flowers and long-life candles. (In France I hear they use colorful bouquets fresh flowers & Mums, but its too hot here for that). There are large dumpsters placed in the cemeteries the last few days of October, so that family members can clean out the old flowers & mementos placed on the graves to get them ready for new ones. (It’s a strange sight to see a dumpster overflowing with faded plastic flowers, I wish I had my camera with me the day it was at the roadside.)
On the eve of November 1, around 6:45, just before sunset, people go to the cemeteries to place the new flowers and light candles & gather to remember those who have passed. By about 8pm, the cemeteries are aglow with an almost fairy tale aura from all the candles. This is a time to say something to those passed, but as more people show up, it begins to become somewhat of a festive atmosphere around certain graves. Thursday night I witnessed groups of people gathered around specific plots, telling jokes, laughing & having an unashamed good time.
I love All Saints Day. Not because I am religious, but because it is a beautiful, peaceful day here. A time just before Tourist Season kicks in, when we can remember what is really important; the people we love in our lives, not the things.
*note: gracious permission was given to me by local artist & photographer Antoine Heckly for use of a few his amazing photos. Click his name for a link to his website.