Undas, Todos Los Santos, Tigkalalag, All Souls Day, Day of the Dead - a deeply rooted Filipino tradition

An infrared photograph of a memorial park in the Philippines. Flickr/Jep

It's that time of the year again when Filipinos all over the country return to their hometowns to visit and pay respect to their departed family and friends. It is a day of remembrance, a day for visiting grave sites, laying down flowers, offering prayers, and lighting candles. In my childhood, my aunts and uncles on my father's side, being of Chinese ancestry, would also have the tradition of offering food and lighting incense on family altars at home. 

This time of the year is a busy time for me since it's also around this time we commemorate my father's death anniversary - a few days before people traditionally flock to the cemetery. I would get a glimpse of the hustle and bustle at the cemetery before the crowds gather. Cemetery personnel will be busy mowing down the grass, carefully placing marker flags for tombstones that are removed for cleaning/pressure washing and repainting of the engravings. I'd usually light a candle on the day itself. I would return a few days later with flower arrangements and more candles for other family members (on my father's side) who are also interred in the cemetery. I usually get one of those long-lasting vigil candles for my father so that I can just relight the same candle when I go back a few days later (those candles typically last about 2 to 3 days, but without anybody constantly keeping watch it will most likely blow out due to the wind or get drenched when it rains). 

The following day is reserved for a 2-hour drive into the countryside where my maternal grandmother is buried in a quiet seaside town. I'd meet with my uncle who still lives in the area and would pay my respects to other relatives on my mother's side who are laid to rest there. It used to be a chance to have a reunion when my mom was still strong enough to make the journey but now it's only my uncle and I sadly. I'd still bring food for everybody though, for the off-chance that some of my cousins and their children will be there when I am around. My uncle would often discuss the state of the mausoleum (if there are needed repairs due to slight cracks or dark stains on the ground due to the algae that have grown and have since dried out leaving a dark green sludge in its place) and our small parcel of land remaining in the area where my grandmother's old house is still standing despite being in a state of disrepair since that big typhoon that blew out most of the house's roof and broken most of the windows. 

After that, it's a long drive back home through mostly quiet winding provincial roads with glimpses of the coast, rice fields, and fish ponds. From time to time the journey back will slow down whenever we pass by community cemeteries of the different towns along the way where people flock during this time of the year.