Day of the Dead

 

Mt. Vernon Cemetery, West Boylston, MA

 

I’ve never gone trick-treating.  In my younger days in the Philippines, Halloween is a foreign concept (although this is not true anymore with this generation’s kids).  It is not a day to don a costume and become a monster or princess or Obi-Wan.  It is not a day to get free candy from one house to another.  Halloween is spent preparing for the Day of the Dead.

October 31st is a day when people travel back to their homes to visit the graves of their loved ones.  Come November 1st, cemeteries all over the country are filled up with people remembering the ones who passed away.  November 1 also happens to be the Feast of All Saints in the Roman Catholic calendar and is a legal non-working holiday in the country.

Even this commonplace tradition in the Philippines is something I have not experienced fully.  We lived in Cebu where we were the only ones in both sides of my parents’ families who lived there.  There were no graves or tombstone of dead relatives to visit.  There was this one time though that we went with my godmother and her family to visit the grave of my godfather.  I think I was only 8 or 9 then. What I thought would be a somber and reflective afternoon turned out to be one that is merry and festive!  My godmother prepared several dishes, a particular one set aside for my dead godfather (a remnant of Chinese tradition where people offer food for their beloved dead).  There were picnic tables and chairs for people to relax, eat and chit-chat.  It was a mini-reunion of sorts since old friends and family also came by to visit and to pay respect.  We only stayed for a while, but for most families who visit their beloved departed on November 1st, it is a whole day affair filled with remembering the dead and celebrating with those who are still alive.

November 1st is also a different day for our family, especially when my brother was born.  He was born on November 1st.  My other sister’s birthday is also in November (Nov. 3 to be exact) and since then November 1st has a become a day of celebration – a celebration of life!

Come to think of it, if one believes in the after life, the day of the dead is in essence a celebration of life!  In the Catholic faith, we believe that we are born into eternal life when our physical bodies expire.  In this respect, it makes sense that Filipinos pay their respect to their departed ones by lighting candles, bringing flowers and offering prayers AND cooking up a festive atmosphere – with food, music and joyful conversations.  I think this trumps getting free candy and putting on a scary costume.

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