August 4, 2020

All Saints Day in the Philippines: An Enduring Tradition

Every year, on the first of November, Filipinos flock to their local cemeteries to honor an age-old tradition. This tradition, known as Undas, or Kalag-Kalag in Cebu, is a special day set aside to honor the dead. Now what sets this tradition apart from all other similar traditions around the world are the tiny practices and beliefs that go hand-in-hand with it.

So, I’m listing down the things that Filipinos usually do every November 1st.

My nephew Eploy is all set with his candles.

Candles are a very important part of this yearly tradition. Like in most Catholic celebrations, the candle plays a vital role in the yearly Kalag-Kalag.

Candles are lit on the graves of loved ones. Candles represent light. And relying largely on the belief that souls journey back to earth on this day to be with their loved ones, candles serve as markers to lead them to the right direction.

Now, there are instances when graves can be quite difficult to locate. In cases when one is unable to locate a loved one’s grave, the best thing to do is proceed to the Dakong Krus or Big Cross. Here, candles are lit for all souls in heaven and purgatory – including those that have been forgotten or neglected.

On this day, it is common practice to offer flowers and other ornaments on the graves.

Outside the cemeteries, stalls selling candles and flowers fill the sidewalks.

On this special day, it is also quite common to camp out next to the grave of your loved ones in order to ‘spend’ the day with them. Picnics which involve food, drinks, singing, and even fun games are a pretty normal sight.

Every Kalag-Kalag, beautification of graves is also a pretty normal thing to see. Usually, families hire ‘artists’ to beautify or repaint graves for a very minimal fee.

During the hotter parts of the day, people are usually seen hiding in the shade. But once it gets cooler, it becomes pretty crowded.

As the sun drops, more and more people fill the cemeteries. On this day, cemeteries usually remain open for 24 hours and getting in and out at 10 in the evening is completely normal.



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