Sunday of the Dead

No this is not the title of some old gore horror movie but a Lutheran holiday in Germany. Totensonntag (Sunday of the Dead) was introduced back in 1816 by the Prussian King  Frederick William III of Prussia to make the last Sunday before Advent a general celebration in remembrance of the dead. This holiday is observed in all German states and there are some special rules as well such as no music is allowed to be played in public and dancing is forbidden as well!

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This Sunday of the Dead we drove together with my parents to Hamburg to the Ohlsdorf Cemetary, trying to find for the very last time the grave of a dear relative of my Dad (Uncle Kurt). Not that he was a close relative, my father does not even remember anymore how they were related but my dad loved him and even bicycled in his youth all the way to Hamburg from our town to visit him. I don’t have too many memories of dear Uncle Kurt as I was just five years old when he passed away. What I still remember is strangely the layout of his apartment, the smell of the cigar smoke and that we always ate cheese cake there. When he passed away he was buried in Ohlsdorf Cemetery and with this cemetery the trouble starts when trying to find a grave again.

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The grave of dear old Uncle Kurt

Ohlsdorf is a bit special as it is actually the biggest rural cemetery in the World and the fourth-largest cemetery in the world. It is just huge with wide streets for cars to pass through and even bus stops. With an area of 391 hectares (966 acres) you might understand why they need those streets and the bus stops. Only once after the funeral my parents were able to locate the grave and that was back in the 90’s. We had tried several times afterwards but to no avail. This time we really needed to find it as by next year the grave will be most likely be removed. The thing in Germany is that you pay for the grave for 25 years. In case no one pays again for another 25 years the grave will be most likely removed by the cemetery to make space for some new arrivals. However this time we were prepared as I had contacted the cemetery and asked about location of the grave. Though we knew where to search we still had to check several hundred graves till we found the right one. We were probably the only relatives who had ever visited his grave since the funeral and lit for the last time a candle for him and his sister.

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Some Finnish Christmas Decoration

After the cemetery we wanted to have something more fun and visited the Christmas Bazaar in the Finnish Seaman’s Church. You might remember that church from the time I wrote about Nathan’s Baptizing there back in 2014. All the Nordic Seaman’s Churches which are next to each other ( The Swedish, Danish and the Norwegian Church) hold this Christmas Bazaar every year for two weekends in a row. As always it was full there, really full. It kind of felt like going around the streets in China just that it was more quiet and organized.  Right in the beginning Nathan attracted the attention of Santa and got some chocolate (which he didn’t share!!!). There was all kind of Finnish Christmas decoration for sale and of course food. We also met some other Finnish people who live in our town and even met one of my old Confirmation pals (Affirmation of Baptism). We only went around the Finnish Seaman’s Church as we had little time left so we could not visited the other Nordic Churches and see what they had to offer. Anyhow it was surprising for us that the Finnish Church even got a little supermarket in the basement with all kind of Finnish (overpriced) goods.

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#Nathancuty eating up all of Mommy’s Blueberry Cake

This Totensonntag was the first I went to a cemetery and it felt a bit strange. I guess it might be also because I know it was the last time I was able to visit Uncle Kurt’s grave and that all things come to an end at some point. Luckily we went to the Christmas Bazaar to lighten up the mood a bit otherwise it would have been a really depressing and rainy Sunday today.

Do you have some special day such as the German Totensonntag in remembrance of the dead?

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14 thoughts on “Sunday of the Dead”

  1. Wow, a very different vibe than the celebrations here in California for Dia de los Muertos. It’s much louder (music, even!) and even more food. I don’t think my protestant family had anything like either celebration. We mostly ignore our dead, I guess, unless they died in battle, in which case the U.S. has Memorial Day.

    It would be kind of nice, I think, to have a definite day of remembrance. Instead, I just walk around in a funk the month my mother died, which is, for some reason, the month when bad stuff always happens.

    1. I heard about Dia de los Muertos, something most people can’t imagine at all here! Most holidays are anyways in Germany more of the low ones as they are all Religious (except National Day/ Reunification Day that is).
      I would say it does not need a special day anyways to mourn the dead. Each person should know themselves when they are up to it, to have a special day assigned is in my opinion a bit senseless. Though a Memorial Day such as the U.S. have would be nice, however that will probably never happen here

  2. In Spain we have All Saints Day, which is November 1st and many people go to the cemetery to visit the graves (not my family though, we never went…). In China they have the Qingming or Sweeping Tombs festival in April where families go to the graves, clean a bit and put offerings. This I have done and I even wrote about it a couple of years ago. It’s weird that I got to do the Chinese custom but not the Spanish one, haha.

    The cemetery in your pictures looks very peaceful, I like it. I have never been to a Christmas market but I might soon, we are planning to go to Shanghai in a couple of weeks and I found there will be a German Christmas market.

    1. All Saints Day also exists in Germany but only in the Catholic States which are in the South. German is kind of devided in the middle between Protestant and Catholic States 🙂
      I really do wonder how the Christmas Market in Shanghai will be, you need to write about it! In Germany many cities got really great markets which are sooo lovely and then there are cities with crappy ones with mostly drinkings stalls such as in my town…

  3. Wow that sounds like a very big cemetery indeed.. There is something similar here in Poland, on November 1st called All Saints Day where people visit the graves of their relatives and light candles. I’ve been there a couple of times, and it’s always so surreal yet beautiful and peaceful. Is that Lapin Kulta beer I see on the rack? 🙂 I don’t think Finnish beers are that great.. I used to somewhat like Karjala I think, but moving to Poland and seeing the variety in beers blew me away. 🙂 Do you have Christmas market set up in your town for this year already?

    1. Yeah we also got All Saints Day in Germany but only in the Catholic States which are in South Germany. Here in the North the States are Protestant and with it we have less holidays than the lazy south…
      Indeed that was Lapin Kulta (I think!). Finnish beer is really really bad but when I was this summer there I was surprised how many craft beers they suddenly have in the supermarkets. They surely improved in the last two years!

  4. Catholics in the United States (and elsewhere) celebrate All Saints’ Day, Nov. 1, and All Souls’ Day, Nov. 2. There are special masses for the dead, and we say prayers, but it’s not a popular holiday. All Saints Eve (Halloween) is much more popular. In the Philippines, where we used to live, people decorate the graves of their deceased family members. They prepare a feast and bring it to the cemetery along with music, folding chairs and tables, and card games. Then they stay next to the grave and party all night.

    1. Here in Germany we also have All Saints` Day but it is only celebrated in the Catholic states which are in South Germany.
      Halloween on the other hand is very uncommon here and year for year companies try to get it bigger in Germany but it will still take years till everyone knows about it

      1. Dressing up in costumes and going “trick-or-treating” is mainly for kids, but in recent years, adults have become more interested. They don’t go “trick-or-treating,” but lots of them enjoy dressing up in elaborate costumes and going to parties.

      2. Here in few places some kids are going for trick or treating but for example in my area a child yet has to ring the door bell 🙂
        Over the years I noticed how more and more costumes are in all the stores just for Halloween

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