Why I Find it Difficult to Commemorate the Dead

I really don’t like this ‘tradition’ of commemorating death dates. To me it often seems almost like a celebration of someone’s passing. If the person was famous there will be special television programmes screened, interviews with people who remembered or worked with them. If the person was not universally famous, a family member say, there will be special meals or visits.

It is a personal thing and affects everyone differently – I understand that. But to me, remembering the date someone passed away is like commemorating the end of their life. Instead we should celebrate the special person’s life by holding significant event on the date that they were born: when they entered the world and not left it. In other words, let us celebrate the special person’s birthday. Hey, let’s go the whole way and have a birthday cake while we reminisce.

Of course, I am not the first to think of this. Jesus Christ has his birthday celebrated all over the world at Christmas, a word made up just for his birthday. It is a controversial date because there is no evidence of when his birthday really was. The chances are it was not at this time of year at all. At the time of Jesus’ life people did not celebrate or even note down their babies’ birth dates. It was just too pagan, you see.

So there are a whole host of people who need to be remembered annually and yet don’t have birthdays. So now I am going against everything I have eschewed because Saint Chad does not have a birthday.

Today is the anniversary of the death of Chad, a very famous saint in the midlands of England. There are many churches and schools named after him. King Wulfhere of Mercia asked for Chad to be the Bishop of Mercia. Chad chose to have his home at Lichfield in preference to Repton, where all the other Mercian Bishops had lived. From then on Lichfield became the spiritual centre of Mercia.

Chad came from a Christian family, his three brothers served at Lindisfarne. His older brother, Cedd, was brought to Mercia by King Penda – read about this in Gulfyrian. Poor Cedd died of the plague in 664 AD.

Chad was a very humble man who refused to travel by horse preferring to walk on foot as the apostles did. He crossed all of Mercia spreading the word of Christ and converting the pagans to Christianity. King Wulfhere rewarded him by giving him  plenty of land to build a monastery.

Ironically, the name ‘Lichfield’ means field of the dead. This is said to have come from the belief that so many Christians had been murdered there. However, the cathedral is beautiful and has sculptures of a huge number of the characters in my books! Well worth a visit if you are in the midlands.

The Christian Church has a tradition that is useful here. Although today is the anniversary of Chad’s death, to the Church, as he is a saint, it is his feast day. So – happy Saint Chad’s Day!

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3 thoughts on “Why I Find it Difficult to Commemorate the Dead

  1. Much food for thought here. I am a Russian Orthodox Christian. We commemorate the dead in two ways. We pray for the souls of the departed, and we pray to the saints to intercede with God for the salvation of our souls and the souls of the departed. I have been to a number of memorials referred to as “celebrations of life,” so I can see the value of approaching the matter that way as well.

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    1. I am not against wakes or memorials. My issue is that we commemorate the day someone died, not when they were born. In my family folk visit the grave on the anniversary of their death. Me, I have a birthday cake on their birthday. This way I remember the good times and not the sadness of the day they died. But, as I said above, early Christian saints do not have known birthdays so we can’t do that for them.

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