Honoring the Ancestors

One of my favorite annual traditions is coming up this weekend. Each year around Samhain, a group of local friends gets together for an Ancestors Dinner. It’s not a complicated thing (well, it’s not complicated for me, since I neither host nor organize the event) – it’s simply an opportunity to get together with friends and speak of our beloved dead, either those who have passed in the last year, or more generally. Everyone is invited, if they wish, to bring an object or two to add to an altar, and seeing the pictures, mementos and other meaningful objects– from different people, different families, different traditions – all together is really lovely.

And, of course, there’s food. The group includes a number of really good cooks, which is a lovely thing, but even for those of us (like me) whose skills in the kitchen are more pedestrian, there’s something about this meal that I find really touching. More than anything, I think it’s because we aren’t cooking for ourselves, or even one another, or at least not just for ourselves or one another, but for those who have passed. Whether it’s something that comes from our family’s ancestry or a dish that a specific person particularly liked or was known for making, the care that each person brings to the preparation is really something to behold.

For me, the Ancestors Dinner can also provide an opportunity to share this part of my life with my family of origin. When I was working on choosing a recipe, I knew that I wanted to make something in memory of a relative died earlier this year. Fortunately, I attended a family reunion earlier this year, and there was a group messaging site that was still going from that, so I was able to ask my family members who knew her the best for some ideas about what to make. My spiritual path (to the extent that anything I do can be considered a path) is pretty different from that of most of my family, but this is one of those easy places to find overlap, and I’m grateful for that.

In any case, this time, I’m honoring my great aunt Peg, who was a loving, generous, and incredibly funny woman, and several of my relatives have raved about the meals that she and her husband Fred made for them. I’ll be trying my hand at their recipe for game hens with bourbon and currant jelly, which certainly sounds delicious. No matter how it turns out, though, there’s something pretty great about reading the recipe written in her handwriting and to know that there’s a tradition of making this dish for loved ones while sharing stories, laughter, and, I suspect, a sip or two of bourbon along the way.

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