If you've been hanging around this blog for a while, which some of you have, you'll know how excited I get when it's German week at ALDI. Apparently it just was, but I missed it, as there was no more regular Frischkäse when I arrived, only the Meerrettich kind, which I don't like. Schade.
This week I did a huge Einkaufstour and went to ALDI and filled up the cart. Käse, Champignons, Paprika, Toilettenpapier, Taschentücher, Bratwürste--ich habe echt alles eingekauft.
When I reached the check-out there were only two people ahead of me, and one, a young man, was carrying only three items. In his hands he held a package of blueberries, a package of raspberries, and a huge stack of styrofoam plates.
"I'm just going to hold my items," he explained, "so go ahead and use the whole belt."
Smiling, I told him "You can hold your things if you want to, but you don't have to, are you sure?"
"Yes, I'll hold them," he replied.
I reached into my cart and started pulling out all the items and laying them down on the belt. "It looks like you're going to a party," I commented.
"We're having a ghost feast."
...I searched in my mind for the term "ghost feast," thought about the calendar (nope, not Día de los Muertos), and came up blank. I stopped.
"What's a ghost feast?" I asked.
"My sister died a year ago. We're having a ghost feast for her tonight." This young man stood in front of me, in the check-out line at ALDI, and he'd just told a perfect stranger that his sister had died.
"I'm so sorry about your sister," I offered, which he accepted with a look straight into my eyes, a nod, and "Thank you."
"So, your sister died...a year ago today?"
"...and you're having a ghost feast in her honor tonight."
My eyes scanned his complexion, the earthy line of his cheekbone, and his thick hair, tied back in a ponytail. "Is it a Native [American] tradition?"
"Yes, it is," he answered.
It was his turn to pay, the cashier turned towards him.
"Thank you so much for sharing that with me. I'm going to go look up more at home. And again, my condolences."
"Thank you," he said again.
What is a Ghost Feast?
A Ghost Feast, or a Ghost Supper, is a tradition of Native American tribes and a way to gather many people together to socialize, to celebrate and to commemorate their ancestors. According to this article, Ghost Suppers have been taking place for hundreds of years.
"As much as it is a ceremony to honor the people of the past, the ghost supper helps those of the present to continue forward on their own journeys. The combination of tribal stories, foods, and customs help to reconnect all those who participate in it with those who live on in memory."
My general impression is that a Ghost Supper usually takes place in the fall, either around All Soul's Day or Thanksgiving. This young man, and presumably his family, had one for his sister this week, on the one year anniversary of her death.
It struck me how he and his family were gathering one year later, and we were standing in ALDI, a German store, and Germans do something similar.
The anniversary of someone's death is der Todestag in German.
This young man's sister died on June 5th. Also: der fünfte Juni ist ihr Todestag. Ihr Todestag ist am 5. Juni.
A Todestag is frequently marked in Germany with a trip to the cemetery. The cemeteries are not just rows and rows of cement headstones, but small plots that, if it weren't for the headstones, you might mistake for a local gardening competition. (Click here to see how some folks plant the cemetary plots or have them planted. They are frequently works of plant and flower art, which shows the amount of time and care many folks put in to caring for someone's gave.) If there isn't already a candle lit on the grave, then loved ones will light a candle. And if they haven't planted new plants or placed flowers in a vase yet, they will do so on the Todestag.
Often it's the family of the deceased who will gather together, however friends could also be involved. There might be a special meal that they share, or they might sing a song together or do something specific to remember the deceased.
And then life.
In what I read about and know about both the Ghost Supper and the Todestag, there is one common thread that stands out: they both breathe life into death. A visit to a cemetery to plant plants literally brings life to the situation. Remembering a funny story someone once told and retelling it to your friends makes it live again.
And the food? Ja, das Essen! Es gibt immer etwas zu essen.
Todestag von GedenkSeiten.de (Memorial Pages)
Verstorbene Persönlichkeiten von Gestorben.am (Deceased Public Figures)
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