Inaugural 'Celebration Day' Sees Brits Honour Friends And Family They've Lost

"We are what we are today, because of what they did.”
Tim Robberts via Getty Images

This weekend, people across the UK will unite in collective remembrance, as they pay tribute to people who are no longer with us in the county’s inaugural Celebration Day.

Taking place on Sunday June 26, the day offer a moment for us all to pause in our busy lives and celebrate the people we’ve lost.

That could mean visiting their favourite place, playing a particular song, digging out an old photo album, going on their favourite walk, or cooking a meal that reminds you of that person.

“In a non-stop, modern world, keeping as connected as we might like to the lives of those no longer with us can feel increasingly difficult – so on Celebration Day we can each decide whose lives we would celebrate and how best we would like to do so,” the website explains.

“Many places, cultures and religions have times and customs of remembrance as ways of honouring either loved ones or ancestors. Celebration Day can connect to all of them.”

And after the past two years of the pandemic – where more than 177,000 lives have been lost in the UK linked to Covid – the idea could not feel more pertinent.

A group of 16 friends – all working in different industries and from different backgrounds – came up with the idea for Celebration Day, but they say it “is not owned by anyone”.

“It is open to everyone from everywhere, whatever age, race, creed or background, to people of all faiths or no faith,” the organisers say.

The website and social media pages share stories from those taking part, explaining who they’ll be remembering and why.

They include Alex Locker, a self-confessed “foodie” who’ll be making risotto this weekend in memory of her dad, ‘the risotto king’.

“It’s a recipe that recalls really happy times and will be shared with the people I love,” she says. “My dad would stand by the hob with his shirt sleeves rolled up, constantly stirring, sipping wine and chatting; enjoying the slow process, and as long as you keep stirring, the magic comes together.”

Alex Locker will be celebrating her dad.
Celebration Day
Alex Locker will be celebrating her dad.

Another person celebrating is David Mwanaka, originally from Zimbabwe, who became the first farmer to grow white maize in the UK after learning the tricks of the trade from his own late father.

“To me, celebrating my father is about bringing my family together,” he says. “We sit down and have a good chat and eat the food that we grew up eating because now we can grow that food in the UK. We take this time to celebrate previous generations because we are what we are today, because of what they did.”

David Mwanaka will be celebrating his father.
Celebration Day
David Mwanaka will be celebrating his father.

Jo Sedley-Burke from Essex, who is chair of the charity Widowed and Young (WAY), will be celebrating her late wife Paula by going to the Ritz, where they had the hotel’s first lesbian civil partnership in 2006. She wants to mark not only what they achieved as individuals, but also how far society has come along since.

“Being one of the first lesbian couples to have a civil partnership, and the very first todo it at the Ritz, felt really special and worth the campaigning,” she says.

“She loved roses and I want to plant a rose in a pot that I can then take with me wherever I live. There will always be Paula in me.”

Jo Sedley-Burke will be celebrating her wife.
Celebration Day
Jo Sedley-Burke will be celebrating her wife.

Celebrities are also getting involved, with Stephen Fry, Richard E Grant, Prue Leith, Lennie James, Anya Hindmarch, Helena Bonham Carter, Jamie Oliver, Gemma Arterton, Harriet Walter and River Medway all planning activities.

The founding friends – Tony Grounds, Elizabeth Adekunle, Rupert Wace, Sir Alan Parker, Dori Dana-Haeri, Shahin Bekhradnia, Allie Esiri, Kim Wilkie, Andrea Hartley, Saul Parker, Sam Bullard, Julia Samuel, Charlotte Metcalf, Gundeep Anand, Jessica Parker and Dr Martin Scurr – note that Celebration Day might not feel right for those who’ve suffered a recent loss.

But for those who’ve sat with grief for a while – and feel ready to smile at the past – the day provides an opportunity to share fond memories with others.

The day is all about bringing people together, so if you’re remembering a loved one this weekend, use the hashtag #celebrationday to connect with people around the country who are celebrating.

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