Undead Week: The Dead Man’s Calendar

While brainstorming today’s post, I realized that I was approaching a rather interesting conjunction of events—I’d committed to having my birthday during Undead Week. Potentially contradictory, isn’t it? Being an opportunist when it comes to topics, I decided to run with it. Which gave me today’s question: what events do the undead, particularly ghosts, celebrate?

On first thought, birthdays were out. At least, birthdays as we know them. It seemed to me that the birthday would be bittersweet: “If I had lived, my age would be…” doesn’t exactly strike me as cheerful. And in nonmodern times, it certainly wouldn’t be a song-and-presents party like we get—can you say anachronism? But my muse reminded me that if memories of life are important to our undead, the birthday celebration may become a way to hang onto what they were.

Then there’s the logical opposite, the death-day. Which could, I suppose, be popular—it makes sense in cultures in which life is just a way of getting ready to die. And certainly, a famous warrior whose heroic end lives on in legend probably wouldn’t mind having it recognized. A ghost whose afterlife revolves around avenging her untimely death, on the other hand, will almost definitely remember the day, but I don’t think she’ll be celebrating unless her murderer is on the pointy end of several sharp knives. And one who died in a manner that lacks both a mortal cause and good memories might not want to remember the event at all, possibly even counting their years as the dead by some other calendar event, if they do so at all. (Of course, those who do celebrate their deathdays beg the question: is it the actual date of death that matters, or the day of the funeral? If the latter, that might make a proper burial more important, as someone without one is neither alive nor officially dead.)

Which brings me to the next question: What might these other events be? One possibility is holidays from the ghost’s life—possibly even ones that are no longer celebrated, or are celebrated so differently as to be unrecognizable. Imagine a ghost who still lights two candles in the window to commemorate the day the young soldiers left for the war, long past the time in which the war was one and the wait for them to return turned into a victory celebration and therefore an excuse to throw rowdy parties and get roaring drunk. (Character note: If he knows the times have changed, why doesn’t he change with them?)

If the worlds of the dead and the living are separate, there’s probably a night that brings them closer together. It could be a set date, for some reason determined by outside forces. It could be the conjunction—or the disjunction—of a solar and a lunar calendar. It could even be something simple like the day after the harvest when they burn the sugar or wheat stubble or whatever’s left over. But whatever it is, you can bet the locals are going to feel it. It might even be important enough to be the beginning of someone’s year.

Why not reverse some of our standard celebrations a little? Like having ghosts celebrate the end of one season rather than the beginning of the next? Similarly, we celebrate our parents, and similarly, the living in one world might celebrate their ancestors (living, deceased, or both); why, then, wouldn’t the ghosts celebrate their descendants, who carry on their line? And of course, in cultures with ancestor cults, days set aside for festivals commemorating said beloved ancestors may or may not be celebrated among the dead, but they’ll certainly be noticed. (Does a deceased member of such a culture still worship her ancestors? If prayer has an effect ordinarily, do her prayers still count?)

And of course, there’s always crashing the parties of the living. Particularly (as in the above) if the party’s for you.

Being dead doesn’t have to mean an empty calendar. Why not give the ghostly year some life?

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