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SILING LABUYO: Día de los Muertos

Day of the Dead or All Souls Day is celebrated on the 1st of November to remember our dead loved ones. The common practice is to troop to the cemetery and pray for them. Some would bring food, music, and drinks and turn it into a picnic. Not a bad idea actually. After all, the tears have been wiped away and the event has become more of a spectacle or merry making.

As Catholics, we honor the dead with prayers. But what exactly are we praying for varies with individuals. The general idea here is to pray for the eternal repose of their souls. Eternal repose is another way of saying that the departed may rest in peace. The actual phrase or prayer goes like this: “Eternal rest grant to him/her, O Lord; and let light perpetual shine upon him/her. May his/her soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.”

The prayers are short but means quite a bit. For those who had lived colorful lives when they were still on earth, they will need powerful intersessions to get that shining light and so we summon the saints (a litany) to help our loved ones get out of purgatory and give them “eternal rest.” But what if, the dearly departed landed in hell? Will recitation of the Litany of the Saints help upgrade our beloved to purgatory? We don’t really know and we will never really know so we go back every year to the same cemetery to pray all over again even if it has been decades after they returned to ashes.

Eternal rest is the opposite of eternal death. The first is a great destination complete with Cherubims and Seraphims doing flybys as they welcome your soul in heaven. This scenario materializes after you have been cleared by St. Peter to enter the Pearly Gates. Our concept of St. Peter is an older guy entrusted with the Book of Life (not Coco’s), eternally standing by the Pearly Gates to vet incoming souls. The rooster standing on the gate’s pillar is there to keep Peter honest by only allowing those whose names appear in the Book. This is the same rooster who crowed three times one thousand years ago to remind Peter not to lie but Peter still denied and failed to vouch for Jesus.

That denial earned Peter an eternal job (not rest) as a gatekeeper. Two cherubs are assigned to him with their flaming swords to ward off gate-crashing souls. Some urban legends tells of stories involving lawyers and engineers trying to get through by using their tradecrafts to get out of hell. One lawyer tried to convince Peter that he could lawyer for him and plead for his case, get out of his eternal job, and enjoy eternal rest. An engineer tried to convince Peter that Peter’s job is now meaningless because he has redesigned, air-conditioned, and made hell environmentally friendly and therefore souls there were no longer desiring to go to heaven. In both cases, Peter denied them entry – a denial line he is very familiar with.

Eternal death is a hot place called Dante’s inferno. It is covered with burning liquid that smells like sulfur and methane sustains flaming hot surfaces for those eternally damned. Horny guys and girls (those with horns) stand guard with their forking hell to stab those trying to get out.

Purgatory is the most common destination even for those going to heaven. These are venial sinners who must undergo purification before given that fine, bright and white linen for their heavenly clothing – not the Barong Tagalog or Trahe de Boda one wore at the funeral. Purgatory is a cleansing station to ensure those with appointments with St. Peter get their raiment of righteousness and not a bold see-through linen.

For those who lived exemplary lives, congratulations for they go straight to heaven and their names will automatically light up in the Book of Life. So, they actually don’t need the prayers anymore because they are already enjoying eternal rest. But doubtful as our natures are, we still pray for them – just in case!

This brings us back to the cemetery on the Dia de los Muertos. Not very many people lives an exemplary life because to live one is to be bored for life. Between the venial and cardinal sins, landing in purgatory is not such a bad thing. Warren Beatty’s “Heaven Can Wait” tells us that there is hope for redemption as long as one stays out of the mortal sins. To commit mortal sin will automatically qualify you for eternal damnation. No amount of intercessory prayers or de campanilla prayer warriors can help get you out of the burning sulfur. Even if they bring chocolates, suman, or apples to the cemetery, or recite the Latin, “et lux perpetua luceat eis,” no perpetual light will shine upon them and eternal rest is not forthcoming.

So, every year we go back to the jungle-like Campo Santo not knowing where our dearly beloved soul is up there. Just in case, we offer the prayers hoping that any given year will afford our dearly beloved, the much coveted “requiescat in pace” or rest in peace (RIP). It is foolish for someone who just lost a loved one recently to pray for the soul to RIP (Return if Possible) because that would really make your Halloween celebration ghoulish.

I’m not making this up. I remember growing up in Bicol and was told that on the eve of All Souls Day (Halloween) that we offer unsalted food on the altar with lighted candles just

in case our dearly beloved visits us. Imagine Papa or Mama eating unsalted suman at midnight when the souls apparently would visit. I can understand the unsalted part because both my parents died of heart-related illness but them making the suman disappear could be unnerving! Should I offer them a glass of water when the suman start disappearing right before my eyes? Que horror!

Another practice that we used to observe was karalagan. The root word here is kalag (soul). The practice is an evening of lawlessness, if you will, by doing anything and everything and get away with it in the spirit (no pun intended) of karalagan. In practice, some of the folks back home would raid the citrus and chico plantation of a rich family and enjoy the fruits (again, no pun intended) of their labor. Some took it a wee bit further like burying a fisherman’s wooden banka on the beach with only the tip showing. Another was to let go of the anchor or untying the rope of a banka and let it drift for hours. In both cases, the fisherman looking for the banka at four in the morning will be clueless until the prank unravels.

Halloween and the Day of the Dead in America is boring for Filipino adults. Yes, some gets to be Superman or Batman or even the devil himself while “Treat or Tricking,” but that inner rebel or devil in you is not unleashed given the rules of society. I still long to go back home and be involved again in karalagan. Many papayas are nearly ripe for the picking and having somebody else’s papaya at midnight before the Dia de los Muertos is an exciting prospect. Cemeteries here or memorial parks are too clean and orderly to have fun and lends to having a basket of picnic food while visiting a family or friends grave. Better yet, that healthy looking cassava root crops harvested from the Tinambac cemetery would make good desert along with Marka Demonyo for the evening winding down after a cemetery visit.

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