Undas: Visiting the dead

Not quite sure how All Saints and All Souls days are commemorated elsewhere. But here in the Philippines, traditionally, almost everyone go to their hometowns to visit cemeteries, pay respects to their parents, grandparents, and other family members who have passed away. October 31 to November 2 of every year account for thousands, hundred of thousands, or even of millions of live people visiting the dead in cemeteries, memorial parks, and columbarium. Sales for all kinds of candles and flowers shoot up.

We go home to the province every year for this purpose. My dad roots from Pampanga, while my mom from Nueva Ecija, both provinces in Central Luzon and can be reached by road. We used to go on a road trip between the two, going to as many as four different cemeteries sometimes. But lately, it has been just Pampanga, since Nueva Ecija is much farther, and we don’t have a family house there anymore.

My grandfather (mom’s father) who has died four years ago has his cremated remains at a columbarium just near our residence. My cousin’s cremated remains are there too. So, now it’s possible to visit them three days without needing to stay overnight.


The remains of my other grandfather (dad’s father) is in Pampanga, and it’s not so difficult to visit it, since the province is just about a 2-hour drive away from the city. In a way, the scenes at a cemetery during this time is like a feast of the living for the dead. Informal family reunions happen at family mausoleums and in front of tombs. Besides the flowers and candles, there are a lot of food and drinks brought by the families, and a lot of others sold at stalls just outside the cemetery. It’s an interesting time to go on food tripping too.

Paying respects to the dead and meeting up with the living. Overall I would say that it’s still a good “social” event, to keep “in touch” with our past (our ancestors, I mean), and discovering the future generations (and yes, there were cute little “pamangkins” or nephews and nieces by our cousins).

There is Halloween too, mostly in the metro areas. I’ve seen a spike in Halloween parties and costume parties for adults, when it used to be popular mostly for kids. Halloween may be a very western tradition, but it’s getting big here the past decade. There’s trick-or-treating in some subdivisions and villages, and even in some companies, for the little ones. Adults are also putting a lot more effort to their Halloween costumes lately.

How do you celebrate or commemorate this holiday?

Undas directly translates as “the first of the month”, but traditionally used to call the first of November, the All Saints / All Souls day.

creepyNotice this photo… It’s the arch just outside a cemetery in Pampanga. The words are written in the local dialect “Ila ngeni, ica bucas”, which in English means “today it’s them, tomorrow, it will be you”. Creepy, isn’t it?

The farmer-girl in me

I was born and raised in the city all my life. But believe it or not, part of me is a “farmer”, or better yet, a probinsiyana. Since I was very young, I was sent to the province every year to spend my summer vacation there. As a young girl, I thought that was a norm. I thought every kid had their own province where they spend their vacations at. I thought it was normal to run along the rice fields, to know how palay is transformed into milled rice, to feel the smell of freshly harvested red onions.

My dad came from a farming family, because his father and grandfather were farmers. My mom came from the province too, where their family also owns farmlands. They were both “landed” (or land owners) but they knew pretty much the rules of the soil.

A short ode to my dad who is a big part of my probinsiyana roots. A few anecdotes:

  • There was a mobile phone commercial on TV bragging about how realistic their screen graphics were, and because of this the chicken was “sitting” on the eggs shown on its screen. It caught my dad’s attention and quickly mumbled, “bakla yang manok na yan” (“that chicken is gay”), because apparently the chicken they used for the commercial is actually a rooster. But most other people couldn’t tell the difference, could they?
  • There is a big rice exhibit in the middle of our museum, which features a number of actual different rice grains embedded in clear resin. When my dad saw this, he started to name the different varieties. There weren’t any labels there, but he was sure of those he was naming, like it’s second nature to him.
  • We were in a faraway province one weekend, and during the morning I heard a chicken clucking. I asked my dad, “nangingitlog ba yung manok na yun?” (“is that chicken laying an egg?”). He quickly responded, “hinde, tandang lang ang tumutunog ng ganyan” (“no, only roosters sound like that”). I wouldn’t have ever known.
  • My dad has explained to me the ENTIRE PROCESS of planting and growing rice, including the different styles and their effect on yield, the different requirements, and the post processing after harvest. All of those information he knows by experience. He’s a consultant now (for something else other than farming) but when they have projects for farming communities in different provinces, he is able to communicate well with them since he really knows what he is talking about.

The province is a wonderful place to learn the deepest tagalog I could ever fathom or the wonderful dialect of the Kapampangan. It was wonderful to walk to the market in the morning to grab the freshest meats and vegetables for the day’s meal. It is also the best place to eat the heartiest meals, especially during fiestas. There were perya (small carnival) and sayawan (dance party) and tiangge (bazaars) during fiestas too.

What else? Uhm, carabao milk, eating frogs and some insects (cooked of course), my love for caldereta and papait na kambing, driving an owner jeep, climbing trees, shooting birds with a slingshot, and so many other things… Now I know I am much blessed to have spent a very interesting childhood summers in the province.