AMONG Asian nations, the Philippines can be one of the few nations that observe as a national holiday the time of remembering the departed loved ones, that comes almost at the same time that the Halloween is celebrated in the United States. But unlike the Halloween with all its commercial underpinnings, the All Saints/Souls Day in the Philippines is based on religious Christian practice of praying for the dead, so that their souls may be assured of gracious eternal life in heaven.
Beyond the religious belief, the All Saints/Souls Day holiday had become a cultural manifestation of Filipinos’ family-centered society where the departed elders and loved ones matter much in the daily lives of every family. Before the advent of Information Technology when assimilation of foreign cultural practices, like “trick or treat” during Halloween took long to be adapted especially among folks in the rural areas, Filipino children would rather tag along their parents to visit the cemeteries with the innocent belief that if they fail to do so the souls of their loved ones would visit and torment them. No scary but fancy costumes of witches and ghouls were needed but only candles and prayers for the dead to rest in peace eternally.
However, teenagers then -- before the world was made smaller by the Internet -- had a more mischievous way of celebrating All Souls/Saints Day. Mimicking what a restless soul could do, these young men, at the time when radio and television were the only means of entertainment at home, would detach bamboo stairs of nipa houses in the neighborhood or steal away anything like ripe jackfruit in the middle of the night to make a naughty way (‘nangkakalag’) of letting pass All Souls/Saints Day.
As time goes by, these old-time mischiefs had been outdated while the Western Halloween creeps into the cultural sense of the new generation that incidentally is celebrated on October 31, a day before the Filipino’s observance of the All Souls/Saints Day. With the rise of malls and stylish dining houses and hotels in major cities in Bicol, the “trick or treat” practice has become common and integrated into the commercial trend of the present generation with Halloween costumes now sold in department stores.
Fortunately, through the years, the practice of remembering and visiting the departed in their graves remains central in the observance of the All Souls/Saints Day. Even though the gap between the rich and the poor remains, as evidenced by the opulence or simplicity of their burial grounds, the kind of lighted candles and flowers displayed, the families alike express their joy of seeing each family member gather in prayer for their loved ones.
While we all die leaving our body to return to dust, death comes in various ways. It is easier to remember and celebrate the life of the loved ones who died of natural causes like illnesses or old age. It is acceptable to think that our loved ones died in an accident or calamity. But it is unbearable for the families to remember the death of their loved ones who died violently whose perpetrators are yet to be identified and brought to justice.
As the nation observes the All Souls/Saints Day this year, we wonder how thousands of families who were orphaned by the war on drugs, the terrorist war, or the insurgency war, are coping. The families who grieve without the bodies of their loved ones are the most to suffer the unbearable feeling of emptiness and injustice. Even though they are victims of injustice, families who were able to retrieve the bodies of their loved ones are consoled somehow that they have the remains to grieve over or light a candle for. Whether or not one dies violently or naturally, the fact remains that we cannot live forever. And for this, we are fortunate to be Filipinos who celebrate the tradition of remembering and paying homage to the dead while other modern cultures have less regard, if not respect, for their elders, relatives or brethren even while they are still alive and very much within their midst.