Filipino Halloween?

Don’t confuse Halloween with our tradition of commemorating the dead. This dishonors our tradition. American Halloween (31 October) can be traced to Celtic paganism. Its association with “Pista ng mga Patay” and “Todos Los Santos” can solely be attributed to its proximity to the Christian holidays. Other than this, it has nothing to do with our traditional remembrance of the dead.

The mainly Catholic ritual of visiting the cemeteries has been for years also become a date for family reunions. Coming together during these official holidays to remember the dead has been ingrained in our society. I’ve always been fascinated by how this tradition of remembering our deceased relatives and friends, continue to bring us together. Now, “tricks or treats” and the Halloween merriment is slowly taking over our culture for these two days in November.

Día de los Difuntos (or Día de los Muertos) is a local holiday that is considered to be originally Filipino. This is not considered a public holiday in Spain but is celebrated in Mexico but not a state holiday. For hundreds of years, these two dates for us has always been days of commemoration and solemn celebration. Obviously, inspired by deep Catholic belief. However, in other places in the country, it is mixed with prefilipino rituals. Which makes it all the more interesting – It is this concept that reveals to us what our identity is as individual and as a society.

I’m not saying Halloween is bad, it could be fun for kids – and even for adults. As a matter of fact, this American tradition is good for the markets, it triggers spending and consumption, which I think was what they had in mind (or what it has become).

For me, “Pista ng Patay” came early this month. An amazing  journey that finally brought my mother back to where she spent part of her childhood and where her parents was laid to rest. These two dates in the Filipino calendar should be solemn and respectful tributes – as it has always been for the greater part of the last 400 years of our history.

I wish our dead were closer to us but they’re in far away places like Bayawan (maternal grandparents) and Valle Hermoso (paternal grandparents). Valle Hermoso, was  town pioneered by a Spanish-Chinese mestizo by the name of Don Diego de la Viña, a major player in the province’s struggle against the Spanish forces. He played a crucial role in christianizing the Bukidnon. On our way towards San Carlos, we passed by this sleepy but scenic town.

At least for my mother, she knows where her parents were laid to rest, my father was not so fortunate. During the war, when they were being hunted by Filipino guerillas after they were suspected of complicity with the Japanese, his mother (a Cebuana from the Barileño clan, the Cañete) died and was buried beside a tree in the wilderness of barrio Bagawines. According to him, its almost impossible to locate it today. His mother was buried in a way that it would not leave a trace.

Growing up in Manila and Makati we visited distant relatives in the South cemetery. Dead relatives that I never met. My father met some of his lost relatives here in Manila. He never searched for them, met them all by chance when he was already working here. Since then, he would tag me along whenever he would visit these relatives. When you’re a child, visiting the cemetery is a fascinating occasion.

I enjoyed collecting the melted candles, the family stories and of course the food, which was supplied in abundance by Filipino Chinese relatives – they value their dead so much that I thought they were worshiping them. But later on, I discovered these rituals follows a rich cultural tradition. The only difference with the ones that I saw abroad is that here, these folk Chinese traditions has absorbed part of Catholic practices (like the “pa-misa” as most of them are Catholics). These examples reminds me that what makes Filipino, Filipino, is this melting pot of culture and tradition.

From Dumaguete we went straight to Bayawan, where my mother’s parents were buried. We went back to Dumaguete and spent a night there. Then the following morning, we traveled three hours to San Carlos, passing by the wonderful towns of Oriental Negros. In San Carlos, we crossed Tanon Strait to Toledo where we took a bus to Cebu City. We then went back to Toledo to rest. Just before dawn we were on our way back to San Carlos, took the Don Salvador hiway to Bacolod and Silay. That afternoon, we crossed the seas and reached Dumangas just before 8PM. Three wonderful islands in three days.                                                                          Picture above, with my mother at Dumaguete’s cathedral. 


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