We understand the concept of death as spirit leaving the body. But, what about the idea of spirits returning for dinner? Our love for the deceased is shown by talking to them in their burial place, lighting candles for them in places of worship, and displaying their pictures. On the anniversary of their passing we have moments of silence, song, and food where we live, work, and pray. So, is setting a place for the dead at our dinner table going too far?
Those who practice the Dumb Supper on All Hollow’s Eve don’t think so. The Dumb Supper is a reverent event that discourages conversation of any kind. Dumb Supper literally means quiet meal—mum’s the word. It takes place on Samhain, which is All Hallow’s Eve or Halloween. This practice, celebrated worldwide, is one of the largest gatherings at the Festival of the Dead in Salem, MA.
After the family meal is cooked, the table is set with an empty place setting filled with food. This extra setting is for all the family ancestors to come and enjoy a meal with the living family members. Photographs of the deceased are often placed on the table. Dinner begins with a prayer and a welcoming of the ancestors, and continues with quietude for the remainder of the meal.
Appliances and cell phones are turned off because it is believed that silence is helpful for the dead to be among the living. No one leaves the table until everyone has finished eating. The silence is broken when everyone thanks the ancestors for dining with them. After the meal is over, the ancestor’s food is fed to the family pets, spread over the earth, or taken to the cemetery where it is left on their grave sites. It is believed that the dead ate of the essence of the meal and thereby shared in the celebration of life.
One of the largest gatherings for the Festival of the Dead’s Dumb Supper is held in the Grand Ballroom of the Historic Hawthorne Hotel in Salem; a haunted site featured on the SciFi Channel’s show Ghost Hunters.
Learn more about the author: Kathleen O’Keefe-Kanavos @www.survivingcancerland.com