All Saints, Souls and Undas

A Celebration!

Because the Philippines is the largest Christian country in Asia, and the world’s third largest Catholic Nation (behind Brazil and Mexico), after Christmas and Holy Week, the holiday of Undas (All Saints’ Day & All Souls’ Day combined), is the most important religious period observed by the faithful.

All Saints’ Day is a typically a celebration of all Christian saints, particularly those who have no special feast days of their own (in many Roman Catholic, Anglican and Protestant churches). In many western churches it is annually held November 1 and in many eastern churches it is celebrated on the first Sunday after Pentecost. It is also known as All Hallows Tide, All-Hallomas, or All Hallows’ Day.

In the Philippines on November 1st, the majority of the Filipino Catholic population will observe All Saint’s Day (Araw ng mga Patay). During this celebration, Filipinos remember their dead, clean up graves, and decorate them with flowers. In Calbayog City, just as in most all areas of the Philippines, the streets are not without the masses of flower vendors who set up every year in anticipation of this holiday.

Flower vendors out in numbers! (photo courtesy of Calbayog Journal)

Flower vendors were out in numbers! (photo courtesy of Calbayog Journal)

All Souls’ Day, or the day following All Saints’ Day (November 2nd) is also celebrated each year. While All Saints Day is customarily for the remembrance of Christian saints, All Souls’ Day is a day of alms giving and offering prayers in remembrance of the dead. Filipinos, who hold great reverence for dead ancestors, observe these two special days together (Undas) with a range of festivities that are strikingly different from how it is observed in Western nations. While the Catholic Church encourages the faithful to visit loved ones in cemeteries, memorial parks, and columbarium’s on November 2 (as it is the day designated for the holy souls, who are believed to be on their way to heaven), most Filipinos will celebrate both days as a single event. They may go to Mass and then spend the day at the tombs of their loved ones to pray, offer flowers, say the rosary, light candles, and share stories with relatives and friends. Many families may also camp overnight at gravesites of their deceased loved ones and spend the night in prayer or for the simple sharing of memories. Adults might sit around and talk and laugh, while children run around laughing and playing games. Families also use this time-honoured tradition to bond with each other over a number of activities which might include card games, eating, drinking, singing and dancing.

A two-day family affair.

A two-day family affair.

Undas

In preparation of Undas, families might visit the cemetery several days in advance to clean up and repaint the grave of their loved ones (puntod) and memorial stone (lapida) with inscriptions. During Undas, the graves are decorated with flowers, and candles are lit before offering prayers and reciting the Litany for the Dead. Relatives and friends bring food and drink offering for the souls (atang) and may participate in the Mass, if one is held at the cemetery.

"Atang" for LolaMost cemeteries are transformed into an ocean of light at night, as thousands of candles are lit in remembrance of the dead. Although a somber event, the general atmosphere is one of joy as families spend time with each other, while remembering their departed loved ones. Celebrating Undas in Philippines is a truly amazing experience. If you haven’t experienced Undas, you should consider joining in this wonderful testimony of family values and strong kinship.

My wife and much of her family packed up as much as they could carry early on Sunday morning (Nov 1st) and they all headed to the St. Ignatius cemetery in Calbayog City, which is the site of my mother-in-laws recent interment just this past May. Over the site, a large tarpaulin was hung over a bamboo frame to protect everyone from the sun and the rain, should either one decide to show up. As it turned out, Sunday was a mostly overcast day with an occasional light sprinkle or two, and the weather stayed rather mild with a gentle breeze for the most part. Nothing however would  dampen the spirit of the faithful on this day and it would literally take a typhoon to keep most families away from their lost loved ones. I visited the cemetery during the afternoon to show my support and I even re-lit a few candles that had been doused by the occasional wisp of wind. After a short while, my wife decided that I should treat all the younger kids to some refreshments, so she loaded up the car with 5 nieces and a nephew, and with one loaded up behind me on my bike, we all headed for some cool and refreshing chocolate sundaes and ice cream floats at Jollibees.

Daughters, sisters, and neices.

Daughters, sisters, and nieces.

After returning to the cemetery, I offered up my parting comments, and I was on my bike heading back home for the night. Afterall, if somebody had to look after the three cats and the king sized bed all the while monitoring the aircon setting during the nighttime hours, it might as well be me.

On the return home from the cemetery, I happened across another large gathering just outside the city. There were literally hundreds of motorcycles, tri-cycles, centercars, and POV’s, all crammed together and parked along the roadway. Then I remembered, it was the city cock-fight arena. And, while a typhoon or another severe weather event might curb the opportunity for a family outing to visit the dearly departed, there could be nothing more that would get in the way of a good Undas celebration, except maybe a good cock-fight! And as sure as I made it home safely, most of those cock-fight attendees likely made it to their chosen cemetery to participate in the Undas celebration…albeit maybe a little later than others.