For the first time, a new Scottish people’s festival will be held this year from the 1st – 7th of November. Called ‘To Absent Friends’, the festival is a time of open-ended celebration and remembrance of departed loved ones through storytelling and ceremony. The founders’ aims are to revive lost traditions of remembrance as well as create new ones by giving the Scottish people a time and place to reminisce, honour, and respect the dead.
‘To Absent Friends’ is a unique festival, however, in that it is not comprised of single events or limited to particular places or times. Rather, the celebrations are meant to span across public spaces, social media, within private homes, and most importantly within the minds and hearts of Scotland’s people as they find their own ways to remember those they love.
Although initiated by the Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care in alliance with Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief, the founders to do not claim to own the festival – instead, they hope that all will embrace the opportunity to create meaningful traditions of remembrance within their communities. As the festival’s website states, “Everyone has a story to tell of someone who is dead who they miss – a grandparent who had a fascinating life; a friend with a unique sense of humour; a child who loved to dance. A person’s death does not lessen the meaning of the relationship we have with them.”
The new festival was inspired by Scotland’s rich tradition of storytelling coupled with the lack of cultural support for honouring the dead. “Talking openly about someone who is dead,” the website reads, “can often cause discomfort or embarrassment.” ‘To Absent Friends’ is meant to provide that cultural need for remembrance, in much the same way as the Mexican Day of the Dead, an annual celebration that honours, respects, and celebrates the departed. Each year during the celebration, graves are decorated, altars are built, and the favourite foods and drinks of the deceased are prepared and offered to their graves as gifts.
For those who wish to get involved in the festival and participate in traditions both old and new, the festival’s website offers both inspiration and practical resources. Visitors to the site can write on the wall of remembrance, share stories of their departed loved ones, check to see if any events are happening nearby, or order a resource pack.
One of the ideas from the site is to create a ‘To Absent Friends’ memorial board. Wedges of blank paper are attractively arranged on a noticeboard, allowing those who pass by to share memories or thoughts about their loved ones. For the more private remembrance, ideas include lighting a candle in memory of the deceased, visiting a grave, taking a walk while thinking of your loved one, and cooking one of your loved one’s favourite meals.
Visitors to the ‘To Absent Friends’ site can also enter the Essence of a Memory photo competition. This competition challenges participants to submit an original photograph and no more than 50 words that together evoke a powerful memory of the one that has died. The photograph need not be of the departed, but rather of something that captured the spirit or memory of that person. “Cigarette smoke, or an unusual turn of phrase, the taste of ginger biscuits, the smell of chip fat frying. All kinds of things evoke memories of people who have died, and many of them come with an interesting anecdote”, the website states.
The competition will be open for entries from the 1st – 22nd of October. Winning entries will be displayed in an exhibition during the festival, and will be launched at a reception in the Scottish Parliament on 30th October.
To get more ideas about the remembrance celebrations, to find events near you, and for more information about the Essence of a Memory photo competition, please visit the ‘To Absent Friends’ website at https://www.toabsentfriends.org.uk/.