MANILA – Once again, Filipinos observe "Undas" to remember their departed loved ones, as well as partake in merry-making over the spooky, macabre, and fun side of the supernatural.
"Undas" is the Filipino term for All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, both of which are religious holidays. Preceding these is Halloween, a secular festivity with religious roots of its own.
While Filipinos subscribe to the Christian way of showing respect to the dead, how they commemorate these holidays employs a mix of native and foreign, religious and secular influences rooted in the deep respect of the living towards their departed loved ones.
Halloween is believed to have Christian and pagan roots. Some say Halloween is derived from the Samhain, one of many Celtic harvest festivals. Others refer to Halloween as All Hallows' Eve, the Christian reference to the night before All Saints’ Day.
“(Halloween is) connected to ‘hallow’, in the sense of saints,” according to Fr. Jason Laguerta, parish priest of St. Maria Goretti Parish in UN Avenue, Manila.
“Hallow is an old name for holy, but (Halloween) evolved and went to the secular culture, and it emphasized death, darkness, and horror. But for us in the Church it’s really hallow, meaning holy, not hallow which is superficial.”
Before Halloween was celebrated as we know it today, Filipinos already had the pre-colonial tradition of “pangangaluluwa” (a folk tradition). On the night before All Saints’ Day, groups of singers would go from house to house to serenade while pretending to be lost souls from purgatory. To appease them, the household would offer "kakanin" (rice cakes) or foods made with sweet potato or yam.
The National Commission for Culture and the Arts says early Filipinos believe that on the night before "Undas", the souls of the dead return to the world of the living and make themselves known. Furthermore, food is offered to these souls for them to take home to the spirit world.
Filipinos are said to have adopted the festive aspect of Halloween from the Mexicans during the Spanish occupation era, particularly the feast called El Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead). This is traditionally celebrated on Nov. 1, during which people remember their dearly departed with music and feasting over specially made food.
Later on, Filipinos would also adopt the American way of celebrating Halloween, which include trick-or-treating and holding parties while wearing costumes depicting monsters, beasts, and supernatural creatures. Further influences had people dressing up as superheroes, cartoon characters, and other fictional entities. Other forms of festivities include watching horror movies and sharing ghost stories.
The Catholic Church, however, frowns upon certain modern aspects of Halloween, particularly the depiction of so-called forces of darkness. This, Church leaders now advise Halloween revelers to encourage children to dress up as saints and angels.
“We can always celebrate Halloween in the sense of celebrating the saints, the holy, that’s why in many parishes right now they are having the parade of saints instead of these masks, horrors, horrifying images,” Fr. Laguerta said.
Ways to remember the dead
All Saints’ Day, celebrated on Nov. 1, is a Christian solemnity dedicated to all saints, martyrs, and holy individuals both known and unknown. On the other hand, All Souls’ Day on Nov. 2 is called the commemoration of the faithful departed, where people remember their departed loved ones along with the souls in purgatory.
“That’s why we refer to the Communion of Saints, meaning there are among us members of the Church who are in heaven, there are among us who are preparing for heaven in purgatory, and those among us who are here in this world journeying to the end,” Fr. Laguerta said.
The Filipino "Undas" begins on Nov. 1, when families gather in cemeteries to visit the graves of their loved ones. There they would say prayers for their dead while lighting candles and offering flowers. Due to All Saints’ Day’s Christian roots, some Filipinos offer masses and vigils for them. The central belief is that visiting their graves and preparing offerings in remembrance would appease their souls.
Because of the celebratory nature of "Undas", the occasion becomes a time for reunions among families, as well as feasting and merriment while taking time to remember their relatives as they still lived.
“It’s not that they are dead,” Fr. Laguerta said, “because we know they have been in heaven. But we visit their final resting place because human beings that we are, we would like to always remember and we would like to give our respects, and also to connect with them even if they are long gone from us.” (PNA)