At the Graveyard on the Feast of All Saints

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We didn’t find much of a Halloween celebration going on in this part of the world on All Hallows Eve. We didn’t have a single trick-or-treater or any costume parties to attend. Here in this deeply Catholic nation, it’s all about the day after: All Saints Day.

The feast of All Saints is a big deal here. It’s a national holiday. The kids were off school. Sarge was off work. Some of our Croatian friends went back to their hometowns to honor the saints and pay respect to the loved ones they hope make it to heaven.

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I looked on Google Maps this morning and insisted that Sarge and the kids go with me to Gradsko Groblje Zadar, the city cemetery, and the one with a review: four stars for being “spacious and well-kept.” I wanted to catch a glimpse of the spectacle. For the last week, I’ve seen vendors here and in surrounding countries selling candles and stunning flower arrangements in preparation for this holy day.

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When we got to the cemetery, we had trouble finding a parking spot. We followed families who had their hands full of flowers. One was one of Sarge’s coworkers, a Croatian Air Force pilot who came with his wife and two kids to visit a friend’s final resting place. He told us that’s just what they do on this day. It’s a solemn time for reflection.

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I wanted to go back tonight to see the candles all glowing in the cemetery. In Eastern Europe, it’s a tradition to light candles on the graves on this night before All Souls Day. By now, there must be hundreds of candles burning at the city cemetery. But Sarge thinks I’m crazy and that going to watch others lighting candles at graves might not be dignified.

So I will bid my own hushed tribute to the departed.

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The distinction between All Saints and All Souls Day is a bit blurred here. Maybe it’s OK to honor the sinners and the saints at the same time. It was cleansing just to watch people tidying tombstones and watering flowers this morning. It’s a hallowed day for sure.

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My boys stopped in front of graves with no flowers or candles and asked why some didn’t have any. They stopped and said a little prayer for the lonely souls, too.

 

‘Sretan rođendan!’ – A happy birthday in Croatia

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When I think back years from now about memorable birthdays, today’s will probably rank up there.

It’s not because I did anything grand. Well, I did treat myself to a seaside lunch and set up my laptop office for the afternoon in a spot with a nice view:

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My main mark for the year is living abroad and truly feeling alive. I think it took shaking up my surroundings to appreciate my life and the people in it. The only thing missing from this birthday are the people I am missing back home. Their messages, texts and calls flooded in all day and made me feel loved.

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Since Sarge is working nights, he and the boys took me out last weekend to Konoba Pece, in Vinjerac, a neat stone tavern on a hill for some Adriatic seafood. And this weekend, we will be traveling to the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana – which sounds like “Lube-lee-ah-nah,” which is just plain fun to say – for a getaway.

My 47th birthday has been pretty low-key. I stopped in a new neighborhood grocery and finally picked up some local bell peppers, the color of which I have never seen in the United States. They’re light green and more mild than green bell peppers in America. And here, everyone calls them “paprika” (very confusing to me at first, since I associated paprika with the ground red spice).

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Anyway, stuffed peppers are a traditional Croatian dish, so that’s what I made for dinner – “paprika” stuffed with seasoned ground meat and rice. I’m not sure it was a hit with the boys, but it reminded me of stuffed peppers my mom used to make. She and my dad FaceTimed while I was cooking dinner. My mom and I share a birthday week. She said since we are 70 and 47, bookended by sevens, maybe it will bode for lucky days ahead. I’m already feeling like I’m having a lucky year. It’s been full of surprises.

Sometimes my surprises are on purpose, like when I’m at the store and buy something without fully translating the package. Today, I thought I was buying ice cream cake, and instead we had a chestnut and chocolate roll for dessert. It was more like a Christmas log, really, and so frozen it was hard to get a knife through. Definitely not the same as ice cream cake. But it held candles just the same.

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Part of me has felt a little somber this week, thinking about lives lost in the Las Vegas mass shooting a few days ago, and even the death of Tom Petty, part of the soundtrack of my youth.

In a year when I truly feel alive, it makes me want to savor the best parts a little more and embrace the journey. Happy birthday, indeed.