In the Philippines, November 1 is considered All Saints Day or Undas and November 2 is All Souls Day but both days are considered an occasion to pay respect to our departed loved ones.
This is a solemn occasion but just like most parts of the world celebrating Halloween, it is still celebrated with as much fervor as fun, Philippine fiestas. There are many rituals and activities involved in this annual observance as this is also an occasion for families to get together.
Preparation for the Holiday
As the date for the holiday comes near, stores make sure that they are stocked with candles, flowers and food that families will take with them to the cemetery. During this time, folks in the business of cleaning graves and engraving tombstones also experience brisk business as they are commissioned to clean, repair and make presentable the burial places of many family’s departed loved ones.
Family’s make special offerings to their parish or church so that the names of their departed relatives will be mentioned by the priest in his prayers during the mass. Family members who work in the cities go back to their home towns so they can go visit their deceased relatives together with the whole family.
Overnight at The Cemetery
This is the only time of year when cemeteries are bustling with living people. Though the official holiday starts on November 1, some families go to the cemetery early to clean the grave of their departed. They also set up camp and spend the night until the next day at the cemetery. This time is usually spent reminiscing about the departed when they were still alive as well as in discussing family matters since all family members are usually present.
Other families arrive on the morning of November 1 and stay the whole day. Other families spend a longer time, from the night of October 31 to noon of November 2 to stay at the cemetery.
Food and Offerings
Aside from church offerings, families who go to the cemetery also bring with them food including food that is a favorite of the departed relative. They also offer flowers and light candles on the graves of their relative to show that they are remembered.
When the families go home, they continue the celebration by enjoying the rest of the food specially prepared for the said occasion. Food items that most households will prepare during this time include biko – a rice cake made from glutinous rice with a caramel topping or latik, puto, kutsinta topped with grated coconut, palitaw, and ginataan or ginataang halo-halo which has gata or coconut milk, saging na saba (cordova banana), kamote (sweet potato), sago (tapioca pearls), bilo-bilo (sticky glutinous rice balls) and langka (jackfruit).
Most of these treats are made from glutinous rice and local fruits with coconut featuring in most of them. Ginataan or ginataang halo-halo is especially popular with children as it tastes good when eaten hot or even when eaten cold the next day.
Rituals and Beliefs
Upon going home, most families continue the celebration not only by enjoying food but also by holding a mass in their own homes. They give a special offer to the church or parish to have a priest say mass at their house at a designated time. After the mass, everyone enjoys the delicious food.
Aside from offering food and drink in front of a picture of their departed loved ones, families also light candles at the entrance to their house so that spirits don’t follow them into their homes. It is also a signal to their departed loved ones that they are remembered and that they can continue on their journey to the next life.