How do Filipinos remember their dead?
All Souls Day, in Catholic tradition, is on November 2. On November 1, Catholic calendar indicates that it is feast of all saints. In Filipino tradition, however, Catholics (and some non-Catholics) flock to the cemetery even on November 1. I once heard an attempted explanation pertinent to this: Filipinos do not really delineate between November 1 and 2 – seeming like confusing All Saints Day and All Souls Day – because, well, they tend to consider their dead saints.
Does it make sense? I do not know.
Let me offer, in this article, a sketchy narration of what really transpires year after year in the cemeteries in the Philippines on November 1 and 2.
Since a good number of cemeteries in the Philippines are owned if not managed by the Catholic Church, and since majority of Filipinos are Catholics, it is commonplace to find chapels inside the cemeteries. Catholic priests are saying Masses in the cemetery especially on these days. More common to chapels is a big cross (such as in the picture). Are crosses of this size built for specific reason(s)? Well, what I observe is that people whose dead are in distant places or for whatever reason cannot be found anymore (e.g., those whose relatives perished during the war, or those whose remains were removed from the niche-for-hire after they failed to arrange for renewal of their occupancy) flock to this cross to say their prayers for the repose of the soul of their dead. To accompany their prayers, Filipinos are lighting candles, and offer flowers (and food, for particular groups like the Chinese).
Having mentioned candles and flowers, during these days, these prove to be very handy in the vicinity of the cemeteries. They are sold by ambulant vendors (see picture), if not stalls are specifically set up for the sale of candles.
Now, stalls do not only sell candles and flowers for the dead. One can also buy food from the vendors – yup, food for the living. These stalls are practically selling stuff for snacks – from bottled water to soda drinks, to different junk foods to local food stuff.
It’s understandable, of course, that given the immense number of people in the cemeteries, it is only rational that some would make sure that the basic stuff that they would need are readily available. One can call it an act of service; others would consider these days a good occasion for commerce.
Why commerce? For it really is an occasion to make money. People are congregating in one place. They need transport, they need food, they need paraphernalia, they need… watches, visors, belts, and other accessories, too!
Not surprisingly, even big business enterprises are also seeing the market potential of November 1 and 2.
For instance, the sight of Jollibee crews in the cemeteries selling their hamburgers and packed spaghettis makes one think that the present financial crisis (that started in the US) has gone to a very terrible level. Jollibee, a Filipino counterpart – I must say – of McDonalds, knows that Filipinos would prioritize going to the graves of their dead relatives and kins; that is why, its crews brings the store to where the people are. And … is this service? To a certain extent, it is a good business.
Definitely, it is not only Jollibee that makes cash during these days. Magnolia products are also being sold; pastries are also being peddled. And, true to their billing as aggressive marketers, Smart and Globe (Filipino telecommunication providers) are selling mobile phone units, phone accessories, and even retails of hand phone loads to their subscribers.
We should not forget that another institution “makes money” on November 1 and 2. The crew members – so to speak – of this institution do not sell food or mundane services. They offer prayers through their leaders-in-cloth (the priests and sisters) or through those they “deputized” (they are called lay ministers).
In the picture, look at the man who is obviously bespectacled and wearing white polo. He’s saying the formula of prayer for the repose of the soul of the dead. Also notice the teenager with a red backpack. He’s holding a paper box.
Let us try to see the box more closely.
What is the paper box for?
In the Philippines, after the priests, sisters or lay ministers pray for the dead, the faithful (and un-faithful) are giving their donations.
How ever you call it – it’s still money-making…
November 1 and 2 in the Philippines are economically significant days, too.