If I ask you what the meaning of Islander Day is, what would your answer be? Quick!
You'll most likely say it's just a day-off. Or perhaps it's a chance to spend time with your family. Or it's a chance to have some drinks with da boys. And there's nothing wrong with that, 'cause the reality is we work too much, don't see our families enough, and don't spend enough time with our friends.
But perhaps in our list of holidays each year something is missing. Now bear with me for a moment, because this might seem a bit unorthodox at first. But why don't we have some sort of "Ancestor Appreciation Day"? In some parts of the world, that's a holiday that already exists, but it's not so much a thing in Western society.
Each year, Buddhist Japanese celebrate the Bon Festival. Typically people will take three days and travel back to their ancestral villages to clean and fix-up the graves of their ancestors, have a dance and make offerings to their family alter. In the Levant (Middle East), Arabs and Christians mark Thursday of Dead by visiting cemeteries, giving food to the poor and giving sweets to children. It too is a day meant to honour the souls of the dead. And closer to home, Mexicans celebrate the Day of the Dead around the same time we celebrate Halloween. And while Halloween takes some meaning from honouring the souls of the dead, it means something very different today.
There is a close connection with the thought of venerating someone's soul after they're dead and how that ties into spiritual beliefs about the afterlife. It's not sacrilege to venerate someone who has passed on, and whatever spiritual beliefs that we or our ancestors have are irrelevant. What matters the most is that our forefathers carried out their lives doing hard work and suffered to improve the quality of life for their descendants.
Islander Day falls on the third Monday of February. Take a moment and reflect what your life would be like at this time of yearjust 100 years ago --or even 200 years ago. For one, all the modern conveniences around us would be wiped away. Yeah, we would lose a lot of forms of entertainment that our phones, computers, televisions, and other widgets provide. But we would also be left without furnaces, stoves, electric lights, medication, quick transportation to see a doctor, and the ability to visit friends or family in different parts of the Island--let alone the world. It's a morbid thought, but without many of the things we have today than death would be certain for a lot of people in just a few hours.
And it's all thanks to our forefathers.
Did they wake up each cold morning telling themselves they had to do such and such for the sake of their descendants? Did they do it because it was God's will? Did they do it just to survive? Did they do what they were passionate about each day?
And not only that, what awful things did our forefathers do that we would never imagine doing today? Did they support using Africans as slaves, or killing indigenous people in North America? Or did they oppose woman having the right to vote?
Who's to know.
In a modern society where we have so much to be grateful for, it seems odd to me that we would go a full year without setting aside at least one day to give thanks to our forefathers who helped forge the liberties we have today. And there shouldn't be anything controversial about that.
Some people may say give thanks to God for that. But God wasn't the one out there sawing trees to build houses and chopping word to keep the fire lit. The community of saints weren't the ones protesting in the streets for their right to vote. The angels weren't the ones ploughing the fields from dawn to dusk and milking cows. And politicians never got one letter from an upset archangel.
I don't have an exact method in which we can pay respect to our ancestors. For some, it might be a near-religious ritual where they have an altar and burn incense. While for others it might mean sitting by the stove on a cold February day, looking out the window and just taking some time to reflect. Personally, I like the idea of having a few drinks around a massive bonfire on a mid-February night. There's something satisfying about conquering the cold and dark for a few hours.
So on second thought, why don't we make Islander Day 2019 about honouring our ancestors? Perhaps by doing something big like having a bonfire? Or simply just by reminding ourselves that our prosperity is thanks to generations of people who did good things to get us where we are today.