Thursday, November 01, 2007

Remembering the Dead

Today is All Saints Day, and while almost everyone is at the cemetery or memorial parks, for practical reasons – (there will be less traffic tomorrow than today) - I choose to go tomorrow, which is All Souls' Day. Because of horrendous traffic jams on all roads leading to cemeteries and memorial parks, more and more people are choosing to observe the day for remembering our departed loved ones on November 2, while some even spend two full days (November 1 and 2) to honor their dead. I hope that I would meet with relatives and friends when I visit there tomorrow.

These occasions - All Saints Day or All Souls Day - are more than for remembering our beloved departed. These are days for reconnecting with family, relatives and town-mates. We meet at the graves of those with whom we share an affinity - by blood, family or personal history. This explains the annual exodus to the provinces on these dates, and why these occasions take on a festive, rather than solemn, nature in the Philippines.

When we troop to the cemetery, we bring not only candles and flowers to offer to our dead, but also food to share with the living. Lots of food, for what is a Filipino gathering without food? It’s a major picnic, yes, even a fiesta with food and drinks laid out over tombs and gravestones. There are tents to shield us from the sun or rain, and to define our space from those in neighboring plots who are not related to us. There are food stalls selling hotdogs or lumpia, halo-halo or fruit shakes, pizza or palabok. Children are running all over the place, gathering candle droppings, and competing with other children on who can form the biggest candle wax balls. To complete the party atmosphere, some even bring playing cards, scrabble or mah-jong, and we do not think playing them is irreverent. There is lots of storytelling – how life was when we were children, how life is now, and what our plans are for the future. We tell our own stories, but we also inquire about those who did not come. There are conversations about the living and the dead, and as we go home from the cemetery, we bring with us cheery or sad updates on a great number of people in our lives.

For many years, I was out of the loop for these occasions for family reunions. I live in the city, busy with the business and not too concerned with following traditions. However, I am almost 62 and there must be something with being at this age that has made me appreciate being in touch with my past and the people who make up my personal history. On All Saints’ Day or All Souls’ Day, I look forward to meeting the relatives whom I know – aunts and uncles (the few of them who are still alive), and first, second and third cousins – and the distant relatives I get to recognize and acknowledge only when we trace our common affinity with the dead whose graves we visit.

This is the Filipino way – and now my way - of remembering the dead – by reconnecting and enjoying joyous moments with the living. I am sure the spirits of our dearly departed are also partying in heaven and smiling on these Filipino traditions on All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.

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