Luminatia, or the Day of the Dead

The First of November in Cluj is dedicated to the graves of the dearly departed. Every year we spend the day bedecking them with flowers (always Chrysanthemums in white, yellow, violet) and with red candles. The tradition is of serious centuries past and leads back to All Saints’ Day. To my understanding, it stretches as far as about Sibiu, but is most revered in Cluj, where Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Protestantism have syncreticized for centuries. Old World cosmopolitanism and cultural fluidity is very much alive in Cluj to this day – it makes me want to stay in bed all morning and alternate between reading Eliade and reading Shelley.

This was my first Luminatie, or ‘illumination’ (referring to the lighting of the candles on the graves). I’ve always been away at school during this time. We left home in the yellow-blue morning with a broom, and bought flowers from outside the cemetery. Very profitable day it must be, I imagine, for florists. The entrance of the cement garden brimmed and swirled with bundled-up figures carrying mounds of Chrysanthemums.

There aren’t many of us left but we are sadly rich in graves. I don’t desire to count them. We made our way up the hill of the cemetery from the bottom to the top, stopping along the way to clean our graves, light candles, and arrange flowers on them. I’ve never seen it so full before. We met many old friends on the way up – is this what happens when you go up to heaven? (little me would ask this). ‘Your great-grandfather was so proud when you were born’, Mrs. B. told me. I turned away.

Autumn is more autumn in Romania than in England. The sky is limpid and though it’s cold, the wind is still  – an easier cold to bear. Hajongard is the most beautiful cemetery in the world. Spread over various slopes and embellished with tall pine trees, it is flooded with graves and crypts dating back to the 18th century. It is gothic, romantic, and the resting place of a plethora of important cultural figures.

At the end of our climb a feeling of absolute calm overcame me – I was so calm and bathed in the sense of a completed moral mission that drowsiness seeped in as I walked down Calea Turzii. At home, I had an afternoon Cappuccino in the furry grey orange light of the living room.

My grandmother has a small crystal Tiffany lamp on her sewing table. In the moments when I want to escape myself and my unchangeable eyes in mirror, I’d like to go to where that lamp comes from. Not today, – I was safe in the afternoon, when it was half-dark and the multi-colored rays of the lamp ricochet against the sofa. Not this week. Other times…

I spent the evening in the cemetery again, at a concert held in front of a crypt. The crypt glowed neon with lights. A stone angel’s shadow reflected darkly on the interior wall. As gusts of warmth breath came out of the singers’ mouths, expelling Ave Maria’s and Paternosters, beams of light ricocheted into the constellated sky over the grave hill. Beds of leaves, best used for dreaming, glowed red from the light of candles, and the hill of the cemetery resembled an infrared copy of the sky above.

Praying, remembrance…it’s really all the same: directing the pregnancy of weighted thoughts to those people, now turned notions, hovering above. Now I find it strange that we consider it sinister, a subject not to be touched, to be brushed aside, in the West.



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