October 2, 2023

The Philippines is known for unique ways of celebrating holidays. Aside from Christmas and New Year, the All Saints’ and All Souls’ days or undas are among the holidays we look forward to.
Filipinos are fond of horror stories. Before the undas, we see sepultureros cleaning the cemetery or the museleos and graveyards which signifies the spookiest time of the year is approaching.
Due to the Covid-19, we might not be able to observe the undas the way we used to. The pandemic certainly altered the way we celebrate holidays as we try to co-exist with the unseen adversity. I kept reminiscing how people observe the undas before the pandemic.
Filipinos observe the undas in the most traditional and fun manner. I and my family would always travel all the way to our hometown to visit my grandparent’s tomb. Cemeteries turn to camping grounds since Filipinos love to gather during holidays. We usually flicker candles, offer flowers, and prayers for our deceased loved ones. We also offer food or atang for the dead, believing that they too, would enjoy it up there. We always offer rice cakes, liquor, and tobacco since these are my grandparents’ favorites. The undas is a time where we hang around with our deceased loved ones and a time to keep up with our relatives. I know I speak for everyone when I say that the undas equates to a mini-family reunion. Despite the scorching heat, we would lay down blankets, chairs or set up tents to accommodate us while we help ourselves indulge in the food we prepared and packed good enough to last us all throughout the day in the cemetery.
In our province, we have a tradition called pangangaluluwa (our version of trick or treat) where people in our barrio would visit different houses referred to as kamararwa to eat food each household prepared especially the rice cake.
During the undas, there are beliefs that souls roam, especially at night, which is why in our case, we always light candles in our doorsteps with the thought that these candles will serve as a light for our loved ones or even other souls that roam. We end the undas by going to the beach, sitting in the sand waiting for the sun to set as we offer our thoughtful prayers for our departed love ones.
In Filipino culture, undas is more than just ghost stories or trick or treat. We consider this holiday as a time to remember the ones that have gone before us and we take this opportunity to reflect, cultivate resiliency as well as strengthen family ties.
Undas this year may be different, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a solemn and fun observance. Let’s (still) feel and reflect on the essence of undas amidst the pandemic. (MERLY ANNE MANANDEG)