Human Flower Project

Secular Customs

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Havel’s Flower Cortege


For the Czech Republic, the loss of Vaclav Havel is reminiscent of the mourning for Lincoln in the U.S.


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Floral tributes for former Czech president Havel cover the funeral boat in Decin, 1/1/12

Photo: CTK

To honor Abraham Lincoln, there was the famous funeral train that carried his body for two weeks from Washington, D.C., to Springfield, Illinois, in the spring of 1865. The outpouring of flowers along the route changed, among other things, floristry for decades to come, as the American public now had an impressive model of how to mourn.

Vaclav Havel was assuredly the same sort of heroic leader in the Czech Republic, and at his death December 18, 2011, the floral tributes overflowed.


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Posted by Julie on 01/05 at 07:18 PM
Culture & SocietySecular CustomsPermalink

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Learning to Grieve in Prague


The Czechs are noted for their impassive approach to death. Rites for Vaclav Havel may change all that, as Lincoln’s death revolutionized funerals in the U.S..


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An outpouring candles and flowers at Wenceslas Square

to mourn the death of former president Vaclav Havel

Photo: David W. Cerny, Reuters

Funerals in the Czech Republic tend to be understated affairs or, in many cases, skipped altogether. With the nation’s secular majority and a culture of silence around the subject of death (in part a holdover from the era of Communist rule) there are fewer religious rites here than in most other nations of the West and, according to scholar Olga Nesporova, only somewhat perfunctory services for non-believers.

Her study criticizes Czech funerary observances for their failure to comfort the bereaved or even address the reality of mortal life.

She writes, “Standard secular funerals today are held in an atmosphere similar to that in the 1970s and 1980s. The speech is formal and usually given by a professional speaker provided by the crematorium, who has no personal relationship with either the deceased or the bereaved, to whom the speaker is introduced no more than a quarter of an hour before the funeral ceremony commences.” Any remarks must fit into “a template” limited to about five minutes. No mention of heaven or hell—or the lack thereof—please.

“The brevity of the funeral address is perhaps not surprising since a speech celebrating the working life and social contributions of the deceased may seem insincere when read by someone who had never met them, and since there is little point in talking of the future when there is no conception of an afterlife. “

Surprisingly, to us anyway, Nesporova’s study makes not one mention of flowers. We assume that’s because obsequies are typically so minimal that flowers don’t even come to mind.

This week, however, the Czechs and their friends around the world staged yet another cultural revolution, this one floral, public, personal, emotional. The nation mourned Vaclav Havel, the playwright, heroic dissident and former president who helped topple Communist rule in Czechoslovakia and led the country into a new era.


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Posted by Julie on 12/24 at 02:52 PM
Culture & SocietyReligious RitualsSecular CustomsPermalink

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Fighting Fear with Chrysanthemums


To withstand a national tragedy and endure its frightening aftermath, Nihonmatsu lets custom, light, flowers and festivity take the lead.


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Two valiant samurai, made with chrysanthemums

Nihonmatsu Kiku Ningyo, 2010

Photo: Human Flower Project

How do you say it in Japanese? “The show must go on.”

That sentiment prevails this fall in Nihonmatsu, a town only 37 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility.

The effects of the March tsunami that flooded the power plant’s reactors, causing a meltdown, have yet to be satisfactorily determined. Enrollment at kindergartens in Fukushima prefecture was much lower this autumn; small children are the most vulnerable to radioactive exposure and presumably many families have moved elsewhere. There will be no more farming in the vicinity of the plant, and national alarm over tainted spinach, tea, milk and other produce from a much wider area continues.


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Posted by Julie on 11/15 at 05:10 PM
Culture & SocietyGardening & LandscapeSecular CustomsPermalink

Friday, October 21, 2011

To Live and Die in Honolulu


How would you like to be remembered? Honolulans have their floral photos and “arrangements” ready.


imageAlbert B. Fernandes, Jr.

With Halloween approaching, memory grows heavy as a gourd and thoughts bend toward the great (or is it small?) beyond. Before breaking out in chrysanthemum rash, we’ll look to Hawaii.

There, just on the face of things, the funereal is floral. We’re not delving into abstruse customs (drive a stake through the heart of that inner anthropologist!)—only reading the obituary pages of the Honolulu Star Advertiser.

imageMartin Luke and Kunyio Anderson

A joy to behold, about half the final portraits of Honolulans include flowers. Sometimes just the tip of a plant peeks from the bottom of the photo. Much more often the departed are shown wearing crowns or leis. Albert B. Fernandes, Jr. appears to be wearing at least four lei over a flowered shirt. Martin Luke smiles inside a strand of orchids. Kunyio Anderson wears a paper lei (neon-green) over a glorious necklace of what appear to be beads or shells and feathers.

 



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Posted by Julie on 10/21 at 11:50 AM
Art & MediaCulture & SocietySecular CustomsPermalink
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