Sunday, November 2
The Catholic community in the Cook Islands celebrates Turama, on the eve of All Souls Day, on 1 November each year.
It’s a bit more wholesome than Halloween and its ghosts, ghouls, bonfires and horror movies even though ‘Halloween’ is simply the eve of All Hallows Day which is another name for All Saints Day. The gruesome side of Halloween relates to its origins in the ancient Celtic festival of samhain which marked the end of the harvest. The early church appropriated the date as they did with many other pagan celebrations.
In the Cooks nobody takes much notice of Halloween. Unlike in America, it is not a major shopping occasion.
On Turama families remember their departed loved ones. The graves are spruced up and often repainted then during the morning and afternoon people decorate them with masses of flowers and candles. Up to a few years ago most of the flowers were fresh and very often beautifully scented but nowadays the shops do a roaring trade in artificial blooms, candles and solar-powered lanterns in the weeks leading up to the festival.
In the evening the church holds a requiem mass at the cathedral in Avarua then the priest blesses holy water and takes it to the nearby cemetery at Panama, close to the airport. He sprinkles it on the graves, there is a short prayer service and as the sun sets people light the candles. These are supposed to burn through the night and into All Souls Day, 2 November.
In various parts of Europe there are similar customs where people light candles and visit the graves of deceased relatives, but the flowers at Turama add a particularly Cook Islands flavour to the event.