There are a lot of holidays in the Philippines. I don’t know how many exactly as it seems to change monthly. There have been two official holidays added since I’ve been here, just under three months.
I used to like holidays when I was a working man. It meant time off with pay. Now that I’m retired I’m not as excited by all these long breaks. It just means more traffic and somehow, even though it doesn’t seem possible, even more waiting in lines. But some holidays are bigger than others.
We just passed one of the the biggest ones here, Undas or All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Maybe the biggest, though I have not experienced Christmas yet. Well, that’s not true exactly. Christmas is not a day here but a four month season. So I’ve had the pleasure of being part of some of that, too.
This was my first time to observe Undas first hand. I didn’t really know that I was going to be part of it, as the relatives didn’t bother informing us ahead of time. We got an early morning visit, and we were off to the first of the two cemeteries we were to visit. This one being a public. The second a private.
The public cemetery was quite crowded, both with live and dead people. You see the gound was full already, so they proceeded to build cement graves on top of those already laid to rest in the earth. Usually this was family, so they were together, but on occasion it was done when there was no longer any indication of those below. No more headstone, and/or maintenance being done. Speaking of maintenance, one of the most popular activities was the cleaning of the cement graves and applying a new coat of paint. The only problem I saw with that was that people had to walk on the graves to be able to pass to those further inside the cemetery. Sometimes that paint wasn’t fully dry.
The private cemetery was different in that all the graves where in the ground. It was not as crowded, but there were plenty of visitors. Since we were a day early, it would become much more active on the following two days. There were tents and coverings constructed so that visitors could come and stay awhile. Some slept overnight, others had benches and food for the family. It was much more spacious and expensive, I would guess.
In both cases the vendors had long ago figured out that this was a great opportunity for commerce. There were candles, flowers, umbrellas, tents, food, etc. sold outside the cemeteries and down the streets leading up to them. Yes, there were even the ever present real estate agents handing out their flyers for the latest and greatest subdivision in the area. Being caucasian I am somehow a prime target for these folks.
Make no mistake though, this is a serious holiday here. Virtually everyone partakes and makes the trip to their loved ones grave site to honor them. In our case it was also a chance for a family get together and lunch, even if I was not made aware of it ahead of time.
It’s interesting that Halloween proceeds this holiday by one day, and while not an official holiday here, the retailers are doing their best to incorporate it into the culture. There were many costumes worn by the staff of the stores, and by children visiting the malls. It seems what candy is given out is done there, as there were no Trick or Treaters here in our neighborhood. From what I understand that is normal. Halloween is quickly forgotten as the march to the cemeteries takes over.
I’ve never been one that visited cemeteries much. Well, other than to see Jimi Hendricks’ grave, but that’s another story. There is a culture difference for me in that we normally honor our dead on the day they died, and/or their birthday. Often times it is a matter of remembrance more so than a visit to a site. It’s nice to see that the family can come together on a special day(s) and pay tribute to the ones they love with each other. The importance of family is supreme in the Philippines.