About Equinox Vigil
Historic Union Cemetery September 22, 2018
Welcome to Equinox Vigil – a free, family-friendly and non-denominational sacred event. We invite all Calgarians to join us for this unique and memorable cultural experience.
Inspired by both ancient and contemporary traditions from around the globe, Equinox Vigil is a creative, respectful evening to honour the deceased and celebrate the natural cycle of Life and Death itself.
Each year on Autumn Equinox, people of all ages and beliefs gather in historic Union Cemetery. There, surrounded by fresh flowers, fluttering prayer flags and glowing lanterns, they join members of Calgary’s vibrant arts community in creating bittersweet rituals of remembrance and reflection.
Inspiring art installations, video projections, and shrines created by professional artists form the heart of the Equinox Vigil experience. See all 2018 artists here.
But this is not art displayed as in a formal gallery setting. Rather, these artworks come alive through public participation. By performing simple acts like lighting candles or sharing the names of deceased loved ones at the digital shrine, each visitor to Equinox Vigil becomes part of a community drawing close to mourn its dead through art and public ritual.
All evening, live acoustic music and the voices of choirs softly resonate amidst the headstones. Under twinkling lights in the memorial craft tent you’re invited to create personal memorial tributes. A hosted Tea Garden offers a sanctuary for conversation. And at the end of the evening, join a lantern procession winding its way down the Union Cemetery hill. Each element of Equinox Vigil is thoughtfully designed to provide families with a rich and meaningful experience.
Calgary’s Historic Union Cemetery
Equinox Vigil takes place in the tranquil setting of Union Cemetery. Established in 1891, it is considered the oldest burial ground in Calgary. Many of Calgary’s early pioneers and city founders are buried here, still overlooking the city from their perch atop Cemetery Hill. With its old stone grave markers nestled amongst towering evergreens, and the lights of Calgary’s skyline twinkling below, Union Cemetery is a peaceful and scenic sanctuary in the middle of our city. You can learn more about Union Cemetery from Calgary’s Historian Laureate “Harry the Historian” during Equinox Vigil, or visit the City of Calgary’s website
Equinox Vigil is held each year on the Autumnal Equinox. Marking the end of Summer and the beginning of Fall, it is traditionally a time for reflection, introspection and change. It is also a time for acknowledging and honouring Nature’s eternal cycle of light and dark, life and death. On the Autumn Equinox, day and night are of equal length. This is a reminder that Nature balances light and dark, and so must we also balance and embrace the light and dark, joy and sadness, love and loss that are inevitable, twinned parts of our human experience. As we watch leaves of red and gold fluttering to the ground, Autumn also reminds us that everything in nature is impermanent. Indeed, it is the impermanence of life that makes all that we love so precious. Autumn Equinox is the most appropriate time to gather together as a community to remember our dead and reflect on our own mortality.
Traditions of Art & Public Ritual
Culture is not innate; it is something that is learned. It’s something that we adopt and practice ourselves because it is practiced around us; we are surrounded by it and steeped in it. But today, cultural rituals surrounding death are, for many of us, quite foreign. As children we weren’t included, and now professionals prepare the body and do all the other important things that used to be performed by families in their homes. Many of us do not know how to perform the rituals surrounding death and loss anymore. Equinox Vigil is intended to help us, as a community and as individuals, to regain lost traditions and to create new, meaningful public rituals for honouring our deceased. As artists, we understand how rituals and ceremony are created and function. Ceremony provides a framework for, and formalizes, emotional experience. It has a beginning, middle, and an end. These principles, underscored with a basic theme of beauty, inform the planning and implementation of Equinox Vigil in Union Cemetery. The artists of Equinox Vigil also bring to the event their creative talents and their perspectives as professional cultural practitioners. We are people who are familiar with the power of symbols, understand the significance of doing things in a certain order, and possess the skills to use colour, light and space to affect and enrich experience. Our responsibility is to create a sanctuary in which each participant can co-create a personally meaningful experience. We are extremely mindful of the sacred responsibility this undertaking implies.