Tell it to Sunstar: All Saints’ Day: The Filipino Way

ALL Saints’ Day is not simply a one-day holiday in the Philippines.

The Philippine government usually declares the day before the 1st of November a non-working holiday to give the people opportunity to return to their provinces, visit and clean, even paint, the almost year-round neglected and unvisited tombs of their departed family members and enjoy reunion with the rest of the family clan.

Perhaps next to the town fiesta, Christmas and Easter, this is the most celebrated feast among Filipinos.

Many, however, make a travesty of this holy day by bringing food and drinks to the cemetery, having a feast near the tombs of their departed, exchange stories even gossips, play cards and even play loud music.

The only solemn and silent moments observe by families is when the priest visits and blesses the graves and say some prayers for their dead.

Not only are the tombs cleaned and decorated with flowers and lighted candles but, in the belief that the souls of their dead return to earth to join in the celebration, the living, in some towns, prepare the favorite dishes and drinks of the departed and place these on top of their tombs.

This probably is an off shoot of their belief in the communion of saints, although Filipinos do not believe their departed family members are saints.

Hence, Filipino families solicit prayers and masses for their dead for the repose of their souls.

Most Filipino families believe their dead are in purgatory as evident in the obituaries they publish in the newspapers declaring that their dead is “with the Lord;” “has been taken by the Creator;” are “in the peace of the Lord;” “has departed in the grace of the Lord;” “has joined his Maker;” “has gone home to God peacefully;” “has joined His Redeemer in heaven.”

These expressions are more of a wish rather than a statement of faith.

In the Philippines the solemnity of this holy day is hardly observed. Many beliefs and practices related to death and burial, however, are fast disappearing perhaps due to the sanctions by the Church and to poverty.

While the Church designates the 1st of November as All Saints’ Day or in Spanish “Todos los Santos,” the Filipinos call this day “Araw ng mga patay” or the day of the dead.

Prayers and masses are offered for the repose of the souls of their departed that they may rest in peace.

The belief that the souls of the dead return to earth to visit the living family members has given birth to the Tagalog practice of “pangaluluwa” or the Visayans’ “kalag-kalag.”

This view allows the living, usually young people, to pretend to be the suffering souls in purgatory and to go caroling in the evening from house to house begging for assistance. They usually are given some money.

This is commonly done on the night of Nov. 1 or 2, the latter being All Souls’ Day.

In the desire to promote tourism, the Provincial Board of Capiz several years ago declared Nov. 2 as “Asuwang” Day or the day of ghosts and witches. The Catholic bishop denounced this as an unchristian belief and practice.

All Saints’ Day the Church declares to be a “feast commemorating all Christians saints known and unknown.” (The Modern Catholic Encyclopedia, p. 19).

The feast was “formerly observed by the Church in Rome on the 13th of May. In Ireland it was observed on Nov. 1 which Pope Gregory 111 (731-741) declared to be All Saints’ Day.

All Souls’ Day on the other hand is the remembrance of all faithful departed observed on the 2nd of November. All Saints refer to all Christians “who are attempting to live faithfully in the life and grace of Christ.” (John H. Dietzen, “Catholic Q & A,: p. 429).

I suppose this includes such stalwarts of the Old Testament as Moses, Abraham, Noah, Job, and the prophets, etc., although we don’t see them included in the calendar of saints of the Church or hear of any celebration for such saints.

“Latin American theologians have been critical of the present list of canonized saints, most of whom are white, European, and upper and middle class…
Feminist theology, too, calls for a reexamination of the theology of the saints, pointing out that over 70 percent of the saints on the liturgical calendar are men and that, of the saints canonized in the past century 79 percent are clergy, 21 percent lay, and a smaller percentage, women.”

Not all saints, of course, went directly to heaven after death. There were those who spent some time in Purgatory like St. Albert the Great and St. Severinus the Archbishop of Cologne (Christ to the World, Vol. XLV, Jan.-Feb. 2000, p. 56).

Let us all properly celebrate All Saints’ Day by remembering the saints and the exemplary lives and faith they have shown us and endeavor to follow their lives and example.--Rev. Dr. Jose V. Fuliga, Th.D.
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