Jun 26, 2012

The Solemnity and Spectacle of All Saints’ Day in the Philippines

As a predominantly Catholic nation, the Philippines often celebrate All Saints’ Day with much pomp. Many consider this the third most important event of the year (next to Christmas and Holy Week) and it is not unusual to find families camping out in cemeteries during November 1 and 2.

What is All Saint’s Day?

All Saints Day Photo

via: Jun Acullador

Strictly speaking, All Saints’ Day, which is celebrated on November 1, is a day to commemorate the saints or people who have achieved perfect salvation in heaven. All Souls’ Day, which comes after All Saints’ Day, commemorates the faithful departed who have yet to purified and are still in purgatory. Prayers are often offered to ask for the intercession of the saints and for the eternal repose of souls of loved ones. Masses, flowers, candles and other offerings are given during these days to remember the dead. However, in these current times, the distinction of these two days has blurred and people simply refer to them as Undas or Tingkalalag. While prayers are still offered and graves tidied up, All Saints’ Day has become less of a solemn religious holiday and more of noisy family reunion affair.

How to Celebrate

The more religious start often All Saints’ Day with a mass offered for the souls in purgatory. After which they proceed to the cemetery to clean and repaint the graves, place flowers and light candles. Often a priest or lay minister would bless the graves while families say prayers for their departed loved ones. But aside from their Catholic faith, Filipinos are deeply tied to family that even after death we still like to keep that bond strong. This is probably why All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day is such a big event. People will often take great pains to go home to their provinces and towns to clean up the graves and visit the dead. Such is the traffic caused by so many travelling people that major TV networks often provide a special coverage of the roads, boats and terminals to aid the travelers. Once people reach their hometowns, it is not unusual for them to spend a couple of nights sleeping in the cemetery instead of the comfort of their own homes.

All Saints Day Cemetary Image

via: jojo nicdao

But despite all the ghost stories that come out during these times, it is hardly a gloomy affair. For two days in a year, often deserted cemeteries are transformed into circuses complete with lights and the competing sound systems of different groups. As families flock to their loved ones’ graves, they bring with them tables, lots of food, sing-a-longs, card games and even hard liquors. It is often the tradition for an entire clan to camp out at the family plot, exchange stories and reminisce about the past. The more affluent families even hire catering services and hold parties near the family mausoleums. And with the liquor (and sometimes bad blood), it is not unusual for a brawl to erupt among relatives, adding to the spectacle. During these days, patrolmen are often deployed in the cemetery to ensure a peaceful atmosphere and to keep an eye out for thieves.

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