All Saints' Day

Cemetery of DiamantMartinique is very respectful of Christian holidays given the high proportion of Christians (over 90% of the population) on the island. All Saints' Day is a very important holiday in Martinique. If in France, All Saints' Day is concentrated only on November 1st. In Martinique, two days are dedicated to All Saints' Day. Both days are public holidays, namely November 1st and 2nd each year. There is no notable difference in the way the two days are observed. Like all major Christian holidays (Easter, Pentecost and Christmas), All Saints' Day is something that is prepared collectively and in advance.

For several decades, All Saints' Day has been the occasion to gather "large families" (extended family structure with the presence of grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc...) in cemeteries to recall the memories of departed loved ones. Previously, in the days preceding November 1st, All Saints' Day, children were given brushes, brooms and cleaning products by their parents to go and clean the graves of their family. The parents would then do the necessary work and repaint the graves. In the last two decades, things have changed somewhat.

Young people in the vicinity of the cemeteries clean, repair doors and windows and then repaint the graves in exchange for small sums. In Martinique, the graves in the cemeteries are white and the entire cemetery is painted white. The use of white in mourning and death most likely refers to the heritage of former slaves who wore white at the funerals of departed loved ones. The "white" signifies the resurrection of bodies. Today in Martinique, during funerals, people wear white (resurrection of the bodies, tradition coming from Africa) and black (color of sadness, death, end, tradition coming from Europe).

The days preceding All Saints' Day are the annual period of great cleaning of the cemeteries and thus it is the agitation which reigns in these places accustomed to silence. Once the graves have been cleaned, they are flowered on the days very close to or on the eve of All Saints' Day. Be careful, however, if there was a certain agitation in the cemeteries, in the neighborhoods agitation did not prevail. The atmosphere was calm. The spirit was not festive and family gatherings were discreet or were done in a modest manner. In the past, it was unthinkable to have a party at home the days before All Saints' Day.

Today, this silence and this desired calm are very rare, especially since this "funeral atmosphere" was based on the fear of the judgment of one's close neighbors. On the morning of All Saints' Day, the families go to mass, dressed in white, where the priest will honor all the saints as he should. Everyone will wish each other a happy feast day as this day is the feast of all the saints and therefore of all the names.

Cemetery illumination At nightfall, families go to the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried, bringing candles to light the graves. Contrary to what one might think, the gathering of families is not a sad moment. If in metropolitan France, it is a peaceful silence, in Martinique, All Saints' Day is a time when smiles and good humor enter the cemeteries. Family members who have not seen each other for a long time remember the good times spent with the deceased.

It is the moment to rediscover a distant cousin whom one had lost sight of, to find a former classmate who has come to pay tribute to a loved one who has passed away, or to get news of an old aunt to whom one will promise a visit soon. In addition to the moment of reunion which is purely based on family exchange and thus has a strong social aspect, it is also a more "historical" moment with a certain transmission of knowledge, culture and history between the different generations that we attend.

The grandparents tell the younger ones how All Saints' Day was celebrated in their time, in the time of their parents or even their grandparents. While the adults chat, the children take advantage of the time to play and run around the cemetery, often playing hide and seek. After a few hours of family reunion, everyone leaves promising to meet again soon. Most of the time, these promises will only be kept at the cemetery doorstep and the occasion to meet again will be the next All Saints Day.

The only difference between November 1st and 2nd is the content of the mass. On November 2, the priest says a mass more about the deceased. This mass is called "Mass of the Dead". Unlike other religious holidays where there is a meal specific to each holiday, there is no standard meal for All Saints' Day.

Martinique is very festive! Don't be shocked to hear the first sounds of drums and choirs singing Christmas carols the next day!