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All Saints’/ Souls’ Day Celebrations in the Philippines

A typical cemetery scene in the Philippines during All Saints’ and Souls’ Days Image © Megacitizens.com

TODAY is November 2 and All Souls’ Day is being observed in the Philippines.

For Filipinos, especially for the Roman Catholics, this is the day where they would flock to the cemeteries to offer prayers, candles, food and flowers for their departed loved ones.

There would surely be a  “fiesta” in the cemeteries, with so many people busy walking to and fro while some silently huddle together in a corner or grave site saying prayers for their dead relatives or friends.

Starting at dawn, people flock to the cemeteries or memorial parks, be it public or private. Tents or makeshift sun shelters mushroom all over the place where relatives, who seldom see each other except for occasions like this, will hold “instant” reunions. They will have long chats while their children, restless young adults and even some adults will hold a picnic on top of the tombs or burial plots of their relatives who have gone over to the other side.

With already so much chatter and movement around, it is a good thing loudspeakers and other noise-making gadgets are banned.

Prior to all Souls’ Day, some Christians observe All Saints’ Day, a day devoted in remembrance of the exemplary deeds of saints or holy people.

Masses and services in Catholic and other Christian churches are held to venerate the saints who have come before us.

In some less traditional instances, children come to church dressed as saints. According to church leaders, this is the most appropriate way of celebrating All Saints’ Day instead of the young adorning themselves as devils, ghouls, zombies, or other gory creatures.

In some rural areas during All Saints’ or even All Souls’ Day, children and adults go serenading all over town, a practice similar to Christmas caroling but in these instances, this Filipino version of trick or treat is called “pangangaluluwa.”

The nangangaluluwa sing songs for the Virgin Mary and St. Lucia pretending to be souls in need. St. Lucia, it is said, is the “bearer of light” who dispense it to the deserving soul.

In response, those serenaded give cash or food to the adult “nangangaluluwa.” The gifts are usually intended for Church use or projects. It is different for kids though as they divide among themselves whatever treat they get from doing the pangangaluluwa.

However, pangangaluluwa is not practiced in urban centers or in schools. It has been replaced by the much western practice of “trick or treat.”

In rural areas, glutinous or sticky rice called “suman” is served during these times. Suman is a sticky rice rolled and wrapped in banana leaves. It is cooked in coconut milk and sugar.

Tamales, which is also made of glutinous rice, sprinkled with a dash of salt and an additive called lihiya — thus the name suman sa lihiya, is at times also served. Tamales is is dipped to a sweet sauce made of coconut milk and brown sugar, and sometimes stir-fried shredded coconut.

Aside from the suman for the living, our kababayan also offer native delicacies to the departed, placing them in their graves or altar of remembrance, a practice we got from the Chinese.

The Filipino way of celebrating Halloween — All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day  — is an important part of our culture and traditions. Hopefully it won’t be forgotten.

It is a happy occasion where we also show our respect to our departed kins and friends. It is our  way of thanking and giving tribute to them for all that they shared with us.

Nida Mendoza-Abu
Nida Mendoza is a veteran journalist who wrote for Malaya Newspaper in the late 1980’s and early 90’s. She also worked as a stringer for a number of foreign news wire agencies which include Jiji Press, Asahi Simbun and the Associated Press. She is currently the Lipa City based writer of Beyond Deadlines.

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