Although the Sorbians relied heavily on skating to get from point A to point B during long, harsh winters, their unique contribution to skating history was their funerary tradition... on ice. Volume 124 of "The Living Age" noted, "Some curious customs, we learned, are still extant in the Spreewald villages when the head of a family dies. For instance, if the deceased should have chanced to be a bee-keeper one of the family will go to the hive, and striking the comb, will exclaim, 'Bees, arise, your master is dead!' On the morning of the funeral, too, the men proceed to the cattle-sheds, and after causing the animals to get upon their legs, and placing cheese for them, will solemnly announce to them that the body is about to be taken away." Sorbian men would wear black and women donned a traditional Sorbian funerary costume and all put on their skates for a ritualistic final 'goodbye skate'. The March 1908 edition of "Popular Mechanics" magazine noted, "As in Holland, the thoroughfares are waterways. In the winter time, when these are frozen over, funeral processions pass along the ice on skates. The coffin is carried on a sledge, drawn by six mourners on skates. The immediate relatives of the dead, men and women alike, skate along behind the coffin, surrounded by their friends. The women carry a Bible in one hand and wear the ancient national costume."
As the Sorbians were a highly religious but isolated people, their funerary procession on ice was as much out of necessity as it was ritualistic. They needed to go that distance over the icy terrain to find a priest. It might seem odd to us today to think of a funeral procession on skates but to the ice-loving Sorbians, they were giving their loved ones one final skate. It's kind of beautiful, isn't it?
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