The Filipinos are the most thoughtful when it comes to celebrating All Souls’ Day. In the Philippines, we honor our loved ones who have moved on to the afterlife to let them know that we will never forget them.
PUBLISHED ONDec 2021
Throngs of people flock to the cemetery. Candles lit. Feast for the souls. Visiting departed loved ones on this occasion shows that we remember them and that they are never forgotten. November 2 is one of the most widely observed traditions by the Filipinos–All Souls’ Day. More commonly known as Undas, it is the day when Filipinos as a community gather together: nagtitirik ng kandila.
Declared as a public holiday, families go to their respective hometowns to visit their loved ones who have passed on. Prior to visiting the cemetery, the many puntod (tombs) are cleaned. It is the only time when the cemetery would be prepared by repainting it, cutting off the overgrowth of grass, and scrubbing vandalized walls. There is a minority who would either go to the grave site a few days to a week before or after All Souls’ Day to avoid the big crowd.
I remember when we were still young and visited the tombs of our grandparents, we were dismayed that the rails (grills) were stolen, but that was the least of our worries. Due to Filipinos’ life of hardship, there are street children who would go to the cemetery to collect the melted candlewax.
They then mold it to form new candles to resell. At the cemetery, there are food vendors, flower sellers, and guests that either bring their own candles or buy them. You would be amazed at the creative ingenuity when it comes to having varied and scented candles designed mainly for the departed.
Filipinos with Chinese heritage have passed on the tradition of preparing a feast for the dead to the next generations. Mostly, it is the favorite food of the departed loved ones.
As an example, if your departed family member’s favorite food was spaghetti and fried chicken, then those who are living cook that and place it by their tombs. The belief is that even in the afterlife, the departed loved ones will always have a banquet. To prepare food for them is to prepare them for the afterlife so that they will not be hungry. There are a lot of food vendors who are selling typical Filipino street food for visitors like hotdogs, mangga with bagoong (shrimp paste), nilagang mani (boiled peanuts) and kwek-kwek (hard-boiled quail eggs).
As per Chinese custom, they also burn paper money for the dead. Respective districts and cities keep the cemetery grounds safe by having police around to monitor the area.
Foreigners might not agree with the way the Filipinos observe All Souls’ Day but Pinoys always find a way to celebrate the well-lived life of their dearly departed. One would even mistake the cemetery for camping grounds if not for the tombs.
There are families who stay in the cemeteries, eating food, telling stories about their departed loved ones, and playing games and music. All Souls’ Day has become a merry-making time between the living and the departed.
Mass For The Dead
The most practiced tradition on All Souls’ Day would be the Mass for the Dead. Parishioners would list down the names of their departed loved ones so that priests would say prayers and officiate Mass for all the souls. Or if you have a relative who is a priest or a seminarian, they would specifically pray for your departed loved ones. A few would even bless the burial grounds.
Flowers have become one of the important parts of observing All Souls’ Day. Flowers from Baguio, Benguet and different parts of Cordillera are delivered and transported to Dangwa, the Bulaklakan ng Maynila, where people from Manila buy their flowers.
Candle lighting has the most significance and meaning when it comes to the observation of All Souls’ Day traditions. First, it serves as the light for the spirits so that they can follow the way to the truth of Christ. Second, it is symbolic for hope. In the darkness, they can still see there is light.
Grief and pain are a part of life. There are times when we lose a loved one and do not understand why, but God has designed life. He would never give us pain if we did not have the strength and comfort to overcome it. He gives us hope and faith each time we light a candle for the departed. He wants us to continue believing there is life after death.
Over time, God heals us of our wounds. Always remember that we are loved and that the Heavenly Father will not forsake us. If God can provide for us with daily needs while still living, what more in the netherworld? Jesus shows us the light to follow so that we would not walk aimlessly in the dark. He wants us to be saved. And as we remember the departed loved ones, we continue to pray for them so that their souls will be saved.
Matthew, 11: 28-30 says it best, “Come to me all of you who are tired…come to me and I will give you rest.”