There are many traditions, old and new, for honoring our varied ancestral spirits. We invite you to share your own traditions, or perhaps take one of these elements of celebration and make it your own.
Learn about your ancestors.
The family or clan story-telling traditions were a common way of passing down family history through the generations. In recent times, families have not always been able to keep these records intact, and many of us have a vague idea of where our ancestors lived or what they did for a living. We can do some genealogical searches, make a family tree, ask our elders for stories and photographs. And if we do know about them, we can visit their homelands, study the language or culture of those ethnic roots, perhaps listen to music from that culture.
Make a special meal.
Many traditions include food in the way they honor those that have gone before. Food may be left outdoors for them, or at a grave site. A plate of food may be prepared for the ones being honored, and a place set at the table for them. Some folk believe that food fallen on the floor should be left, as someone needed it. It may also be a time to celebrate your ethnic roots by preparing favorite dishes enjoyed by your ancestors, especially if there are special recipes that have been passed down through the generations. Consider creating a cookbook for the youngest generation of your family, that includes recipes that have been passed down. If you have handwritten recipe cards from grandmothers, aunts, etc., scan or copy these, as there is so much of their character and personality passed along with their handwriting.
Create an ancestral altar.
Setting up an area on a table or mantle for items intended to honor our loved ones is an ancient tradition that still resonates with many people today, no matter what their spiritual beliefs may be. Spending time selecting photos of ancestors, animal companions, and others that we hold special in our hearts, is a loving process. Add any favorite objects or personal items you may have from those you are honoring. Rosemary is often placed on altars as a symbol of remembrance. You may wish to light candles or tealights for these ancestors, and say their names aloud as you light the flame. If possible (and safe to do so), let the candles burn out on their own.
Dedicate generous actions in the name of ancestors.
Taking positive actions and practicing generosity with the intent of honoring our loved ones that have passed on is a powerful engagement practiced by many traditions. Many indigenous ways of life also emphasize the practice of sharing wealth and blessings as part of the flow of our inter-relatedness, with our actions impacting seven generations forward and backward. It is a common practice to make a charitable contribution in the name of a recently deceased love one, for a cause that is a good fit for the unique life and purpose of the ones you are honoring.
Also, remember that we are the ancestors of tomorrow, so the choices we make today are what will be remembered – and hopefully honored -- by all who come after us.