Foreigner friends and colleagues often ask me why there is always a long weekend/holiday for Filipinos commencing on the last day of October (sometimes beginning the 30th of October, if the day falls on either a Thursday or a Friday) until the 3rd of November. To them, it looks as though we are simply blessed to have so many holidays, and while there’s some truth to that, there’s obviously much more to this early November ‘break’ than meets the eye. And when you’re Pinoy, your explanation doesn’t just end with “Oh, that’s because we observe All Saints Day and All Souls Day!” without going into a more detailed kwento about what really happens during these solemn days of observation we call Undas.
As a predominantly Catholic nation, Philippines (and the Filipinos) celebrate All Saints Day on the 1st of November and All Souls Day on the 2nd of November every year. These are the days when Filipinos, who are studying or working far from their families, travel home to commemorate the days of their family members and relatives who have passed on.
Days prior, Pinoys would go to the cemeteries to weed out, clean and repaint the graves or mausoleums of their loved ones. Those without mausoleums, will sometimes rent tarpaulins or portable tents so that visiting families will have a roof over their heads when it starts raining. On All Saints Day, family members will start arriving in the afternoon or even earlier, as some would be bringing packed lunches, snacks and even dinner in picnic baskets. Once complete, the family will either pray the rosary or the novena for the eternal repose of the souls of their dearly departed. There will also be a priest to celebrate the mass at the cemetery chapel and afterwards, he will be going around blessing graves randomly. Of course, he doesn’t get to cover everyone, especially if it’s a big cemetery, so you’ll be very lucky indeed if your relative’s grave is among those blessed with the holy water.
Everything clear so far? No? Okay then, let’s break it down step-by-step for you.
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What happens during Undas:
- Days before All Saints Day (November 1), family members go over to their departed loved ones’ graves/mausoleum to clean up. Weeding, sweeping, repainting, polishing of the epitaph, pitching of tents, etc, are a common sight at the cemeteries during this period.
- Family members working or studying in other cities/places travel back to their provinces to be with their families so they can observe and celebrate Undas together. At this time, bus stations are bursting with people hoping to catch a ride to their respective provinces. Traffic jam is also a major problem in highways leading to these provinces because of the volume of transportation and passengers. To avoid this, some Pinoys file for extra vacation leave so they can travel earlier to avoid congestion in bus terminals and the roads.
- As in any many Pinoy celebrations, food is also a staple feature during Undas. Families will prepare lunch, snacks and even dinner to be brought to the cemetery as this is usually a day-long event and some people even stay overnight.
- Candles are lit up and prayers are said for the eternal rest of the souls of the dearly departed. And as more relatives drop by (cousins, uncles, aunties, etc) to pay their respects, expect there to be a stream of prayers all throughout the day. Just as Christmas and New Year are the seasons when fireworks are sold and bought in huge quantities, Undas is when candles are sold and used aplenty.
- In between prayers, there’s usually a lot of talking and sharing of stories they remember about the deceased – and, singing as well. Yes, some families will even bring their magic sing and a small tv for some karaoke/videoke sessions after the prayers. This is when things get more festive and colourful, so to speak.
The observance of Undas is something very close to every Filipino’s heart. More than just being a religious tradition that has lived on for centuries, it is also a clear testament to the Filipinos’ strong family values and sense of kinship.
***Featured image by Hannachiever07 on https://commons.wikimedia.org/
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