To Absent Friends is a special festival that takes place in Scotland every November. The idea is simple. Family and friends get together to celebrate and share stories about loved ones.
According to the festival’s website, “To Absent Friends gives people across Scotland an excuse to remember, to tell stories, to celebrate and to reminisce about people we love who have died. To Absent Friends, a People’s Festival of Storytelling and Remembrance is an opportunity to revive lost traditions and create new ones.”
How it Started
The festival began with a simple idea. In Western culture, death isn’t discussed. It’s taboo. It’s too morbid. Or just too plain difficult a topic.
But is that really the best way to approach death? After all, it’s inevitable. Why avoid talking about it? In other cultures, such as Mexico for example, they celebrate the dead each year with festivals like Día de los Muertos. Each year, during the holiday, they celebrate the lives and memories of their loved ones. To Absent Friends began by asking, can we have a Scottish version of the Mexican Day of the Dead?
The first festival officially started in 2014 and gave people in Scotland a reason to tell stories about their loved one, and to celebrate their life with others. The festival kicked off with Mark Hazelwood, the Chief Executive of the Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care, introducing the festival to a lunchtime reception at the Scottish Parliament. According to the website, the initiative was to “improve people’s experiences of death, dying and bereavement in Scotland.”
Activities, Events, and Storytelling
Four years later, the festival is going strong. It includes tons of activities for friends and families looking to celebrate their loved ones. Some activities include:
- A large, non-scripted festival that encourages people to get involved in their own unique way. Each year, the main festival has looked different and has included concerts, storytelling events, tea parties, and much more over the years.
- Art competitions that challenge people to take a photo and write a story that reminds them of their loved one. These photos then become part of a larger memorial collection.
- Storytelling and a remembrance playlist that anyone is free to share on the To Absent Friends website.
- Unique beer mats that tell their loved one’s story.
- Remembrance walls.
- Café of Reminiscence.
- And much more!
Our Own November Storytelling Month
Thankfully, death is becoming less taboo in America, too. And while To Absent Friends takes place in November, our own November storytelling month is taking hold.
November recognizes Family Stories Month — and more recently, it’s also Have the Talk of a Lifetime Month. The Have the Talk of a Lifetime program — sponsored by the Funeral and Memorial Information Council (FAMIC) — helps families engage with each other about their end-of-life wishes and how they want to be remembered.
It’s easy for anyone to get involved. Check out this article about the movement and ways you can make the most of the Have the Talk of a Lifetime Month this November!