In many Catholic countries, the remembrance of All Souls’ Day is a cultural tradition in the practice of faith. In Spanish, it is called El Dia delos Muertos, a practice typically observed with food and prayer, close to the fiesta-like celebrations back here. As most Catholics believe there is no better manner of showing love and respect for deceased loved ones than visiting and praying before their graves during this annual holiday. In most other countries, the significance of this day has been mired by Halloween eve celebrations.
Every November, as young children, my father would haul us all to La Loma Cemetery—the most crowded and chaotic cemetery I remember. Young and adventurous still, my cousins and I never really did mind trekking through narrow alleys, often flooded and muddy, and side-stepping graves to get in and out of La Loma.
Naïve and easy then, my cousins and I argued over melted candles as we made balls of wax. Even more, because there were never any decent bathrooms around, we didn’t even mind holding on full bladders for hours on end.
Years later, when my father passed away, we soon would spend All Souls’ Day at Loyola in Marikina. As it has been, every All Souls’ Day is like a family picnic everyone just absolutely enjoys despite the unpredictable weather. Come rain or shine, we always go home sweaty and tired. Unlike the weather though, for almost 15 years, our picnics have a predictable menu of adobo and pork cooked in bagoong, our traditional comfort food on this day.
Coming from a huge family, one can imagine the sheer challenge of fitting in a bunch of at least 25 full-bodied kids and adults into a 16-square-meter plot—much like an upright can of sardines. With tents all set up, we all gamely squeeze ourselves in every possible nook complete with baskets, folding chairs and gadgets everywhere. Any vendor lucky enough to pass us by will find the kids buying anything from ice cream, pizza, fish balls, balut, and even balloons of all shapes and sizes.
By late afternoon, All Souls’ Day doesn’t end at Loyola though, as we then drive to Bulacan immediately after to spend the evening by my maternal grandparents’ grave. In spite of the long drive, treats like puto bumbong and bibingka, which are customarily served await us all.
Once, when my sister and I told our Mom that maybe we should move our grandparents’ remains to Manila to be near our Dad’s, the lights suddenly blacked out and we sat in the only dark mausoleum in the whole cemetery. After this incident, my sister and I resolved to never suggest that idea ever again as it might have been our Lolo’s way of scaring the wits off both of us. By midnight when we reach home, we would all be washed out from exhaustion and black in our noses from the fumes of all the burnt wax we might have inhaled the whole day.
The somber part of observing All Souls’ Day is the stark reminder that we all would face death one day. Even so, the tradition of All Souls’ has made our family much closer through the years and has been a reassurance that one will still be remembered and prayed for long after. At least for a day, we all gratefully remember what our lost loved ones have truly bequeathed us with—lasting memories of family and kinship.