Monday, February 13, 2012

Parentalia February 13th

"I saw behind me those who had gone, and before me those who are to come. I looked back and saw my father, and his father, and all our fathers, and in front to see my son, and his son, and the sons upon sons beyond.
And their eyes were my eyes.

-Richard Llewellyn-

The Parentalia, or Festival of Dead Ancestors, was observed in the Roman world from February 13th through the 21st. This was a day for families to honor and commemorate their deceased loved ones, particularly their parents. During the week of parentalia, all temples in rome were closed and all wedding ceremonies forbidden. Ancestral tombs were visited and offerings of grain wine and flowers were made to family ghosts. It was a quiet, personal, reflective day, followed by a quiet reflective week or so to think about loved ones and the importance of the family.  Today we remember in similar, but somewhat different ways.  

Some of us honor our dead by visiting graves with flowers and prayers.  Jewish people light candles and say special prayers on the anniversary of their loved one's death. My sister-in-law, a devout Catholic, does the same.  Some people leave food out for ancestors and other spirits by arranging it on a small tray or plate and placing it outside of their lighted windows. Others set an extra place setting at their table on holidays or other special occasions. Ancestors are prayed to, venerated with offerings, and honored through rituals.  I choose to honor mine through an ancestral altar and genealogy...honoring them by learning their stories.

Whenever I work on my genealogy, it never ceases to amaze me how similar piecing together our family tree is to a jigsaw puzzle. Thousands of tiny pieces of information fit together to make a picture of your family's history.  Each of these pieces has its place for without them, our lives will never have been. For example, I have previously mentioned before that my second great grandfather died at age 21.  My great-grandmother was only 3 months old.  Heartbreaking, yes, but something that set in motion the events which led to my birth.  Yes, it is entirely possible that Richard and wife, Harriet, would have eventually moved to the states, but I highly doubt it.  None of Richard's family EVER left Stalham and Barton Turf so the odds of Richard's doing so were nil.

On my mom's side, my 2nd great-grandfather, Michael, enlisted to fight in the Civil War on March 17, 1862.  He deserted his unit on June 14, 1862.  My great-grandmother, Sarah, was conceived in August 1862 and born in April, 1863.  Michael eventually did return to the service and mustered out on March 17, 1865. But, I have to wonder if, had Michael not deserted, would Sarah have still been born? It was Sarah's time. She had to be born for me to exist.

The 18 year-old Sarah found employment as a servant in the home of a beloved school teacher, my second great-grandfather, Joseph, and his children.  One of these children was John Jacob, nearly ten years Sarah's senior.  The two fell in love and married one year later.  Their love spanned nearly 50 years.  Out of that union my grandmother was born.  

Your family tree is a jigsaw puzzle in which you yourself are one of the pieces.  I have  box in my house...a box filled with birth, death, marriage certificates, wills, and pictures.  Some of these puzzle pieces have already been placed; others await their own special place.  I know that one day, I will make them fit, for they are a part of who I am.  

Strangers in the Box

Come, look with me inside this drawer, 
In this box I've often seen, 
At the pictures, black and white, 
Faces proud, still, and serene.

I wish I knew the people, 
These strangers in the box, 
Their names and all their memories, 
Are lost among my socks.

I wonder what their lives were like, 
How did they spend their days? 
What about their special times? 
I'll never know their ways.

If only someone had taken time, 
To tell, who, what, where, and when, 
These faces of my heritage, 
Would come to life again.

Could this become the fate, 
Of the pictures we take today? 
The faces and the memories, 
Someday to be passed away?

Take time to save your stories, 
Seize the opportunity when it knocks, 
Or someday you and yours, 
Could be strangers in the box.

by Pamela A. Harazim


  1. So do I.
    And day of the dead is right after halloween in Mexico and other traditions. I did not realize that february was a time to honour the dead as well.
    Nice to learn of other traditions.