A column by Bles Carmona
For the week of Oct. 29-Nov. 4, 2014
“UNDAS” THE WAY WE DO IT IN THE PHILIPPINES
With prayers, candles, flowers – that’s the way we commemorate All Saints Day (a.k.a. undas) in my country of birth, Pilipinas. In the Catholic world, the Day of the Dead or All Souls Day is not until Nov. 2 but in the Philippines, it has become a long-standing tradition for the faithful to flock to the cemetery on Nov. 1, All Saints Day, with some of them opting to go a day early on Oct. 31 to avoid the crowds by visiting early, or they go a day early in order to stay overnight until the following day.
One week prior to Nov. 1, families go to the cemeteries to clean up and repaint the tombs of their loved ones, or they can contract with experienced tomb cleaners to do the job, sprucing up the area a little bit and doing whatever it takes to get the tomb or crypt ready for All Saints Day. Then on Nov. 1, that’s when the Catholic faithful troop to the cemeteries to have reunions with their family, say the rosary and other prayers, offer bouquets of flowers, and light candles. In our family, we light our candles, let them stand on the sconces and the top of the tombs, and we do not leave until the last candle has gone out and melted completely. We also bring some sandwiches and drinks to share and if we run out, there are always roaming food vendors who may charge an arm and a leg for their wares. But what can we do if we’re already hungry or thirsty, right?
Other families who have whole crypts that could be already be considered small houses bring their sound system and play blaring music. Other families bring their karaoke machines and sing out loud to their heart’s content. Some play cards or dance. Since some of these families plan to stay the night or even stay for a couple of days in the cemetery (the so-called lamay), these are the various ways for them to keep themselves energized and awake. Around Nov. 1, there is indeed a fiesta-like atmosphere in the cemeteries around the Philippines.
My previous personal experiences with All Saints Day revolve around the La Loma Cemetery. Let’s have a situationer. According to Wikipedia, “The La Loma Catholic Cemetery was opened in 1884 and is located mostly in the city of Manila and the northwestern part of Caloocan. The La Loma Cemetery is the oldest cemetery in Manila with an area of slightly less than 54 hectares.” How does our family get there? It’s a yearly trek we’ve had to make and my branch of the family had relied on me in the past to get us there without getting lost. From our house in Guadalupe Bliss, we have to ride a jeepney to Buendia (Gil Puyat) Avenue, then ride the Light Rail Transit (LRT) until we arrive at the Jose Abad Santos station where we get off. Down the stairs, walk for a bit until we reach the cemetery’s main entrance with that distinctive arch facing Taft Avenue. From there, we have to walk past the church (upon which wall states, “Ako ngayon, ikaw naman bukas” (My turn today, your turn tomorrow) which my sister Cherry and I find morbidly hilarious), past the Barredo family crypt, then turn left, find the multi-level crypts for the dead nuns of a certain order, find the tomb with ascending pillars high on top of it. That’s my final landmark. When I see it, it’s time to shepherd my family to the narrow walkway in between this tomb and the ones on the same and opposite side of it. Pretty soon, we locate a certain tree on the left and identify the iron roof over our family’s mini-crypt, so far having two levels. And there you go: we have arrived.
Once we arrive at our tomb, we may say things like, “Hello, Lolo, Lola, nandito na naman po kami, dumadalaw sa inyo.” (Hello, Grandpa, Grandma, here we are again, visiting you.) We break out the candles, bring out the food to share, maybe even say the rosary and other prayers for the dearly departed. And the flowers of course! Catholics believe that this is that important day of the year when we, the living, commune with those who already passed, and it’s true for our family back then. We reminisce about our great-grandparents (ground-level of the tomb), our grandparents who are my Mom’s and her siblings’ (my aunts’ and uncle’s) parents (second-level of the tomb). The recollections we rehash could either send us laughing or crying due to those fond memories borne out of our shared experiences with our dead loved ones. Celebrating Undas is also celebrating family unity, a way of acknowledging that hey, we’re still here, we’re still alive so let’s make the most out of our shared identities and relationships as a family.
At the end of the day, our family makes the trek back home. Once it gets dark, it’s time to bring out the candles again, this time lining them up in a safe manner outside, near the doorstep of the house or outside the gate if the house has one. According to tradition, these lighted candles will help the souls which are roaming around on that night to have a guided path back to heaven. I used to go outside and walk up to a certain distance so that I can see all those lighted candles forming a path in our neighborhood. As I watch the lighted candles flicker and glow, I am comforted by the realization that those who have gone ahead of me, family and friends, are not really gone completely. For as long as my heart and mind periodically refresh my memories of them, they will continue to live within me, until it’s my turn to join them.
Ako ngayon, ikaw naman bukas. Undas (And that’s) the way we do it in the Philippines.
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