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All Saints’ Day. All Souls Day. The first two days of November are reserved for people who are no longer here with us. November 1st serves as the feast day for all saints, particularly those unnamed or not given their own feast days by the Church. On the other hand, November 2nd is the day specified for all souls, even those who are in purgatory or wandering aimlessly through the Earth still. Nonetheless, people observe these dates to visit their departed loved ones in cemeteries worldwide.
Regardless of religion, race, or culture, many consider All Saints’ Day and All Soul’s Day as the time of remembrance. We remember those who are no longer with us and our own mortality – that sooner or later we will also be like them. We offer flowers, candles and prayers for all souls. We go out of our way to commemorate the lives of late relatives and friends, especially to those who have not known them. It is a beautiful tradition of communal remembrance.
The Tragedy of Wastefulness during All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day
But this beautiful tradition is marred by wastefulness. Year after year, people flock to cemeteries only to leave them filled with trash. Plastic bottles, junk food wrappers, straws, paper plates, you name it. All these garbage lies on and around the tombs of the dead, like a parasite sucking away the sacredness of the place. Aside from the aesthetic and spiritual degradation this wasteful habit causes, it can also exact a heavy toll on public health and the environment. Garbage, not well-disposed, can cause diseases to develop and spread over the populace. Worst, they contribute to many levels of pollution that Mother Nature still suffers from.
This is NOT the way we should celebrate the Days of the Dead and of the Saints. We should honor the people who have died before us by respecting their resting place. In fact, we must go the long mile. Respect them by taking care of the planet they once loved, laughed, cried, and lived in.
You need to start shifting to a more sustainable lifestyle to lessen wastefulness and prevent the breakdown of our environment. Start by conducting a Zero Waste Observance to All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.
Zero Waste Tips on Observing The Day of The Dead
On the way to the cemetery
Even before going to the cemetery, you can start going zero waste in paying homage to your loved ones. All you need to do is to prepare well. Ditch the convenience of commercialized products. Take some time out of your schedule to pack the things you need to bring – flowers, candles, and everything in between.
Better yet, DIY. The best gift you can give to your precious loved ones is the gift of your own hard work.
- Grow a plant to place in the grave of your loved one. Give a small piece of yourself in the form of a flowering plant that you have been growing in your indoor garden. Send it off with a creative touch by putting the plant in a pot you decorated yourself. Plants symbolize the preciousness of life, despite its finite cycle.
- Create your own natural wreath. This time of the year is also host to the natural falling of leaves and other plant parts on the ground. Don’t let this go to waste. Fashion a natural wreath with the pine needles, cones, chestnuts, dried leaves and flowers that are abundant everywhere. No need for elaborate arrangements. Just pour your love into the project and it’ll show in the wreath itself.
- Turn your jars into glass lanterns. Instead of simple candles, you can make special with a little dash of creativity and upcycling. Wash some of your jars (sizes as desired) then put a wax candle inside. Decorate it as desired.
After choosing which things to bring, go further in sustainability by shunning plastic and other wasteful things.
- Pack everything you wish to bring to the cemetery in reusable bags and baskets. If you will bring food, pack it securely in reusable containers such as lunchboxes.
- Bring your own water jug to avoid purchasing bottled water. Enjoy free water by going to the fountains or water stations your governments have placed inside cemeteries.
- Commute to the cemetery. Or travel by group (with family or friends). Public transportation and carpooling can create carbon savings and lessen pollution. Better yet, if you can, walk or ride a bicycle to the place where your loved ones are buried.
At the cemetery
The cemetery is a sacred ground. Respect it and all who dwell in it by observing solemnity and prayerful demeanor.
- Choose lead-free candles that do not yield black fumes or soot. Limit the number of candles to reduce heat and pollution. It’s the thought that counts, not the number of candles set alight.
- If you choose not to DIY, offer fresh flowers, not plastic ones. Avoid wrapping floral or plant offerings in plastic.
- Don’t litter, dump or burn trash in the cemetery. Do not throw cigarette butts, candy wrappers, discarded packaging, fruit peels and others on the ground.
- Refrain from smoking in the cemetery. You are not the only one there. Be considerate for the children, the elderly, pregnant women and others around who have respiratory and heart ailments.
- Don’t be noisy. Refrain from creating deafening noise from loud radios, blaring music, sing-along and constant honking of horns.
- Relieve yourself only in the toilet. Keep the urinal or toilet bowl clean as a courtesy to the next user. Do not defecate or urinate in public places.
- Pray. Honor your late loved ones by praying for their souls and remembering them. This is the best thing you can do for them. Most importantly, this act is universally good – it causes neither harm, garbage nor pollution.
After visiting loved ones’ graves
- Clean up the place where you stayed in the cemetery. Leave nothing but the candles, flowers and other memorials. Keep the graves of your loved ones pristine and waste-free.
- Bring home all your discards for reusing or recycling. Give food leftovers to pet animals and strays. Turn others into compost with other biodegradable waste. Finally, reuse or recycle the non-biodegradable discards.
All Saints’ Day and All Soul’s Day are the times we remember our departed loved ones. Respect their resting places, this sacred ground, through prayerful and solemn behavior. Our dear departed loved ones deserve prayers and respect – not trash.
Honor them by keeping the cemetery and most importantly, the planet they once loved and lived in clean and thriving. Go zero waste. Shift to a more sustainable lifestyle. Love Mother Earth as much as you love your precious ones – even those who have gone before you.