Halloween in Philippines

By Honor Blanco Cabie

Halloween in the Catholic areas of this Southeast Asian archipelago, its marked variations despite, is among the country’s age-old religious tradition that dates back to the 16th century.

In Metro Manila and nearby provinces, residents refer to the celebration as the “undas,” or “araw ng mga patay” called by those in Central Visayas as “kalag-kalag,” or “piesta dagiti natay” among Ilocanos, who also have “semana ti ar-aria” for the week-long bash to All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.

In the run-up to the two days, by law non-working regular holidays in this predominantly Christian country, which received the Cross in 1521, people who hack out a living in the metropolis but have their roots in the provinces begin a tense-filled exodus back to the countryside –- by buses for northerners and boats and aircraft chiefly for southerners.

It is an annual trek that has become a solemn affair -– among instances when the living visit the graves of their departed dead in public or manicured private memorial parks.

Halloween in these parts is marked differently by the communities –- one tradition in a Central Luzon town being the kin of the dead gathering in the graveyard on All Saints’ Day for some prayers, feasting, and merry-making.

The merry-making extends to rides in ferris wheels and roller coaster swings in the metropolis –- in stark contrast to the different practices in the provinces where surviving kin remember their dead with prayers and, sometimes, five minutes of funeral marches played by the town band by the epitaph of the dead relation.

In the Christian areas of the Philippines, Halloween can be said to be actually more of an observance than a ‘celebration’ or a day to remember the dead.

During the Halloween season, Filipinos go to the cemeteries to visit their dead, clean their tombstones, sometimes repaint them, light candles, and offer flowers and prayers for the dead.

Most often, masses are also offered in the graveyards where the priest, beyond the request of a grieving kin nearby, also prays for those who have been forgotten, their resting places abandoned for years.

Some kibitzers have seen whole families camping in cemeteries and sometimes even spending the whole night or two near their dead relative’s tomb.

During this time, card games are played, ghost stories are told, and there are eating, drinking, singing, and merriment in commemoration of the departed loved ones. The occasion is more like a family reunion or banquet or family picnic.

Halloween also coincides with the day, often on Oct. 31, when relatives clean up the tombstones and graves -– repainting the stones or uprooting covering wayward grass, including the “cadena de amor” which is a familiar sight in Philippine cemeteries.

Some in Cebu, like Mary Anne and her siblings and their father, will be going to Tindog on the northern side of the island province to visit the grave of their mother for prayers before they drive back to Minglanilla town south of the capital city for additional prayers at home.

But in some areas of Negros Oriental, orphaned relatives will visit the graves of their dead kin for an overnight stay –- on shifts -– at the cemetery for what they call the “kalag-kalag,” which is also practiced by some in Negros Occidental, like the family of Jeanie in Sagay City.

In some towns in Ilocos Norte, the “piesta dagiti natay” –- literally feast of the dead –- is marked by nine masses at home or masses arranged to be celebrated in churches, either Aglipayan or Catholic, with the ninth culminating on All Saints’ Day.

The practice is replicated in many towns in Cagayan, Isabela and Nueva Vizcaya, especially in the Ilocano-speaking towns of these provinces of the Cagayan Valley, which lie on the side of the Sierra Madre.

In the Visayas, as in some towns in Negros Oriental, some distinct Halloween customs and beliefs are observed, including the burning of candles on the family altar from 6 p.m. shortly before Angelus until past 8 p.m. when the Church bells ring.

Observers say this is done to welcome the souls of the dead who, given the folk belief, are free to roam about on Halloween night.

Some say a quick look at the altar and the number of lit candles there can give the impression how many have passed on from the family.

The nine days of prayer for the departed souls in the Ilocos and the Cagayan Valley are believed to help the souls in Purgatory gain “a seat in heaven and a sight of the Lord.”

The nine days of prayer, which end with some food feast and merry-making, are believed by some Catholics and Aglipayans to bring back to life reunions with those who have answered God’s summons.

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