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To Absent Friends, Scotland’s remembrance festival

Raising a toast to absent friends

Picture: Yucatar

“My Uncle Robert was my strength, my role model and my rock. The real gift he gave me was his unconditional love.”

Glasses are being raised and stories are being shared in a week-long festival that aims to revive the ancient custom of remembering the dead.

A performer at a To Absent Friends remembrance event

Loved ones are being reminisced in concert halls, pubs, hospices and family kitchens across Scotland as part of people’s festival To Absent Friends. It could be described as contemporary take on the pagan Samhain and Mexico’s Day of the Dead, celebrating those we loved and the part they played in our lives.

“We wanted to revive old traditions, create new ones and make it socially acceptable again for us to remember people who’ve died,” says Rebecca Patterson, policy and communications manager for the Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care. Now in its third year, To Absent Friends was launched by the charity to inspire a new sense of tradition that it hopes will grow organically.

“He was my dad and I adored him.”

Friends in conversation about a loved one in a city cafe “We’ve initiated it, but it’s not prescriptive,” says Rebecca.

“In Mexico, there’s a Day of the Dead and lots of people like that idea, but we don’t have that in Scotland. There’s no socially acceptable time to remember loved ones and while there may still be religious days, people are becoming less involved with these.”

Falling between All Saints and All Souls (aka The Day of the Dead) and Remembrance Day (November 11) and Remembrance Sunday when the nation pays its respects to fallen heroes, the burgeoning To Absent Friends festival is inspiring people and communities to hold their own celebrations to mark the lives of the ones they held most dear.

It began this year with a concert in the capital by the Edinburgh Brass Band, one of a handful of festival events directly organised annually by the SPPC, as a catalyst for community-led events.

“I used to despair at times at the mischief she got up to.”

Two friends in converation over teaPicture: Matthew Henry

Among them is a To Absent Friends beer festival being held at Edinburgh watering hole the Stockbridge Tap pub, while messages of love will be tied onto the trees at Greenock’s Wellpark, during the week.

All around the country, families and friends will be getting together at cafés and around kitchen tables, to share To Absent Friends suppers and reminisce in their own way.

Everyone’s also invited to share their stories about the remarkable and dear people they’ve known and loved, on the To Absent Friends website and via its social media links. Here, too, you’ll also find other ways to take part, including uploading a favourite song to its Remembrance Playlist and sharing its significance to you and someone special.

"My dad was down the pit and the smell of coal when he got home"

People reflecting on their memories at a To Absent Friends event

Hundreds of people have left messages of love on To Absent Friends' Wall Of Remembrance.

  • “My mam, baking day on a Thursday – coming in from school and the worktops covered in cakes, pies and brownies.”
  • “To someone who could fix everything except himself.”
  • “I met my wife at the Cavendish dancing – happy days.”
  • "Eunice was fastidious about cleaning - on holiday I awoke each morning to her outside on the south terrace sweeping the sheep’s turds off the grass"
  • "Each night I light 3 candles; for absent friends, family and the love that draws us all together."
  • "Loved in life, loved beyond death. I miss you. x"

“It’s important that people do it their own way and there are a huge variety of things going on, all quite different,” says Rebecca.

“Once the idea of To Absent Friends is out there, it’s up to people to decide what they want to do. Remembrance can be a very personal thing.”

The To Absent Friends festival runs until November 7, during 2016