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Burial

In older times during the period from the Memorial Day for the Dead (November 2) until spring, people tried not to visit the graveyards unnecessarily, because it was considered that it is not good to disturb the dead during this time. It is still a custom to wash hands after returning from graveyards. There is also a custom that you should not bring anything home from the graveyard and a belief that if a bird flies into the window, it indicates the death of a relative.

When a person was close to death, people kept a candle burning so that the soul would have a brighter path. If it was not possible, it was lit later and burned all the time while the deceased was being washed. If a person was already close to his death, relatives and neighbors would recite the prayers in the next room. They continued to do so during washing and all the way until the body was placed into a coffin. The window was opened either when a person died, or after washing with the thought, so that the person’s soul could escape from the premises. Washing and dressing of the deceased was done by women. If the deceased was a man, his beard was shaved off while washing. The Rosary was wrapped around the left hand, and a holy picture was placed in the right. After placing the body in a coffin (the coffin had already been prepared at home), a prayer was recited and a light meal was eaten (in the evening it was called a night meal). A lid was put on the coffin during the night, if no one of the relatives was present. However, when the lid is put on, a small gap was left for the coffin to ventilate. If there were people at home, the coffin was kept open during daylight hours.

The pit was dug the day before by neighbors or distant relatives. The diggers were given the so-called grave brandy. The excavated pile of sand was decorated with spruce branches and some flowers. The inside of the grave was covered with spruce branches. The beginning of the road to the deceased’s house, the granary and the gate of the graveyard (other places were also possible) were decorated with small spruce trees, the tops of which were decorated with black ribbons. The tops of spruces were broken to one side. In the past, the cross was decorated the day before the funeral with a special wreath of the cross, which was woven from myrtles, lingonberries, house ferns or the like. Nowdays the cross is decorated with a black ribbon.

The graveyard bell (if there was one) had to be rung several times. The first time – in the evening of the day when the person had died – at sunset. The bell is hit once (but not rung) also when digging a pit in the graveyard. The next time the bell rings is when the coffin was carried into the cemetery, then when the coffin was lowered into the pit. The last call is made when the burial has already been completed. This ringing has been intended not for the living, but for those buried in the graveyard, so that they can follow what is happening. People still believed that after burial, the new deceased should stand in the gravyard at the gate as a guard until the next one comes and replaces him or her.

After the body had been placed in a coffin, the next gathering was in the evening before the funeral day. Before sunset, relatives and neighbors gathered. In the past, the neighbors brought milk in buckets, each had a loaf of bread under their arm and a stick of butter wrapped in a handkerchief. It was accepted. Someone was chosen as the lead prayer, who then determined which prayers to recite and which songs to sing.

First, near the deceased, they sang From the depths I cried to You, Lord, then Have mercy on me, Lord, and recited some prayers. Then everyone went to a room where long, white-covered tables were placed. Two candles were burning on the tables. Two kerosene lamps hung from the ceiling. Those gathered sat down, sang, and then recited the Rosary. When it was over, the hostesses brought in bowls of soup. The participants took loaves of white bread, which they put on the table uncut, cut slices with their pocket knives and spread butter on them. Soup was eaten with large wooden spoons straight from the bowl. The host also brought beer in a clay mug and poured it into the same glass and offered it to the participants. After the meal, they sang again, then ate dinner. Ate meat. After dinner, they sang a few more litanies, recited the evening prayers and sang Well, all things will be silent. After midnight, the participants went home or stayed there to sleep.

For the funeral table, soup, meat, jelly (galerts), baked white bread and sklandrauši carrot pies were used to be cooked. In the early morning of the next day, already in the small light, everyone gathered and started the morning service. Breakfast could only begin after the hours of the Virgin Mary. Unpeeled potatoes and jelly were put on the table. A few bowls were also placed for skābputra. There could also be beer on the table. Vodka was also brought out. After that, everyone got ready to go to the graveyard.

At home, gloves were distributed to the parish priest, the cross bearer, the coachman and the pallbearers. The bearer of the cross put the gloves on his shoulder, while the others put them on their hands. In summer they usually gave gloves with fingers, in winter mittens. The distribution of gloves was done by one of the women closest to the deceased. The gloves were tied together with colored yarn. The black ribbons on the shoulder were not attached in the past. The bearer of the cross was usually a godson or another person close to the deceased. Children were not allowed to carry the coffin, but grandchildren could. For young people, especially young children, coffins were white. Unmarried or teenage girls were buried in a white dress, sometimes with a veil and a myrtle wreath.

The coffin was tightly closed before being placed on the cart. A cross was placed next to the coffin. The blanket was not placed over coffin while driving. The driver sat on the foot of the coffin and started driving. Singers sat in the second cart and sang the Litany of All Saints. If the road was long or the weather was bad, reciting the litany and walking on foot, was done only to the beginning of the road to the farmstead. There everyone got into the cart.

All the decorations from the place where the coffin was kept (including the small spruce trees) had to be removed by the householders before the participants of the burial return. The last people went to the graveyard only when it was done. The deceased’s clothes and bedding (sometimes also the bed) were burned after the funeral. Some burned these things on the driveway of the house.

When procession got to the graveyard, the graveyard bell rang. The bell rang until the coffin was carried to the grave pit. This ringing was usually done by someone who had taken on the position of bell ringer at the graveyard. When the coffin was at the pit, the parish priest blesses the coffin and also blesses the grave pit. The finished graves was also consecrated at the end. The pallbearers let the coffin inside. Usually the diggers and the carriers were the same people. The pastor throws the first three handfuls of sand, then everyone else. After three handfuls Hail Queen and Angel of the Lord are usually sung. Then, during the burial, various funeral songs are sung. The diggers stamped the sign of the cross on the sand of the filled grave before placing the spruce branches.

When the branches were placed, a blanket was placed on the grave, on which the participants put money for the pastor. Now that doesn’t happen anymore. Participants stayed in the graveyard until the laying of flowers ended, relatives used to stay even longer.

When the participants arrived back home, they were given water and soap to wash their hands. After that, everyone sat down at the funeral table, where the Fathers’ Prayer was recited first. Everyone had to drink a glass of wine on light sands for the deceased. This glass was to be drunk empty. Then they ate and sang. Did not sit at the table all the time. The men used to play cards at the funeral, while the women discussed the latest events. There was never a shortage of beer at a funeral. The vodka was brought out. More important guests were sometimes given better brandy than everyone else. The funeral ended that evening (sooner or later). The card players were usually last to leave.

If a young person died, there was also dancing at the funeral after midnight. Dancing was done also to the elderly if the deceased had so desired.

The next evening, when the sun sets (others during the day), loved ones who do not live far, went to the graves to arrange the grave and light candles.

The spruce branches were removed from the grave 40 days after the funeral. Wreaths and flowers were removed sooner, but the grave itself was not disturbed before this deadline.