All Souls’ Day: Forget Halloween, This is the Real After-Party with the Dead

Culture

All Souls’ Day: Forget Halloween, This is the Real After-Party with the Dead

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

I

f our Facebook feed was any indication, we’ve been bitten hard by the Halloween bug. Boys, girls, and anyone else we’re identifying as these days were out in full force on Wednesday, partaking of the festival of Halloween, an American tradition where people dress up in shocking or awe-inspiring costumes and get sloshed in the hope of getting a decent Insta story out of it. But it’s not all skeletons and ghouls; I hear these days couples dress up as one half of an Oreo each. Top marks, boys.

If this seems like just another bastardisation of a traditional holiday advertisers realised they could cash in on, that’s because… it is. However, unbeknownst to a lot of us, we’ve always had our own day honouring the dead. It’s called All Souls’ Day, a day meant to honour and remember all those Catholic uncles and aunties who stuck to their appointments with St Peter at Heaven’s Gates.

Don’t let the spooky-sounding name fool you. All Souls’ Day is actually pretty fun. There’s feasting, drinking, and an entire day spent in a cemetery among tombstones and mausoleums. It usually starts with mass, like all things Catholic, which is held throughout the day. When I tell my mum I’d rather be found dead than be caught at mass, this isn’t what I have in mind. But given the celebration that ensues, I can play along as a good God-fearing Christian for a day.

We’d find the occasional tandoori chicken or piece of fried fish left unsullied by the birds and have ourselves a good ol’ fashioned party.

READ MORE

Did I mention there was food? My aunt and mum usually spend the night before churning out an array of dishes our dearly deceased family members loved. My grandma’s favourite pork bafat, my aunt’s favourite mutton biryani, and my uncle Abel’s favourite beef steak are a permanent fixture. Of course, there is also booze. In a fitting tribute to my relatives who were carried to their grave by Johnnie Walker and his friends, there’s a pint or quarter of their preferred poison, just in case their ghosts get thirsty. By the way, there are also a couple of bones left on the family mutt Brutus’ grave. Here’s a top family secret. Brutus is buried beside my aunt, illegally.

Given the paucity of space in the city for people to congregate, most folks don’t mind kicking back with their families among the tombstones. Relatives meet, cousins play pranks, and all that food is eaten in the company of the dead. As kids, this was real fun as we’d explore graves and mausoleums looking for skeletons and the gold some of the deceased were supposedly buried with. What we didn’t know was the grave robbers never slacked at their job, and skeletons are best left buried and ignored, until their existence is forgotten.

Our adventures as kids turned into misadventures as adolescents. Given the fact that the cemetery stayed open late on All Souls’ Day, we’d take advantage of the darkness to visit graves and gather cigarettes and alcohol left behind by families for their late relatives. We’d find the occasional tandoori chicken or piece of fried fish left unsullied by the birds and have ourselves a good ol’ fashioned party. Initially we’d fight the workers and gardeners at the cemetery for this bounty, but then realised sharing was caring, especially because the gardeners carried shears and threatened to call the cops on our little after-parties with the dead. The more amorous among us even had the gumption to steal a few kisses when it got dark. The entrepreneurs among us would set up a little stand serving up lemonade to quench parched throats, for free, but there was a conveniently placed donation box placed a few feet away which would gradually accumulate funds toward our picnic kitty.

So if you thought that dressing up in a costume you bought online and heading to a crowded club to get shitfaced and listen to EDM on Halloween was a fun, just walk into a cemetery on All Souls’ Day. It’s an all-day party, a fun celebration of death with a tinge of joie de vivre. And pork.

Comments