DAY OF THE DEAD
November 1 is All Saints’ Day. The day after Halloween, it is a day where the living can celebrate the passing of loved ones into heaven.
A few days before November 1, I was asked if I wanted to visit the grave of my fiancé’s father. He had only passed away the previous year. I thought it would be nice to visit and we would place some flowers on the grave and say a quiet prayer. At the time I did not realise it was All Saints’ Day, a public holiday in the Philippines and widely celebrated.
A street vendor selling flowers for the departed
We left early in the morning to travel to the cemetery. Two hours travel time, a bus then a Jeepney. There were eight of us in tow and it was interesting for me to see parts of the country I had not seen before. About a kilometre from the cemetery you could feel the excitement. There was a hive of activity that comes with large crowds. There were vendors of all sorts selling their wares, who realised that on this day they had a captured audience and was a once a year opportunity to make some sales. There were the usual food and drink sellers and some stalls selling candles and flowers, but also some more stalls that did not seem related to the theme of the day selling mobile phones plans and also one performing health checks on people, taking blood pressure and the like.
The local mayor helping out with some shade
Later that night I was to learn, via a live cross to the cemetery on TV, that over one million people had visited the main cemetery in Manila on that single day and they were reporting on such things as the number of people who had gone missing or had been injured.
After entering the cemetery, via a large stall set up to promote the local politician, there were people as far as the eye could see. The mood was not as sombre as I would have imagined as relatives and loved ones tried to find the grave of their dear departed. Due to the large population in Manila, the graves are stacked up into the air on top of each other, some five high that I saw. There were kids who would climb up and down these structures to fix up the grave you had come to see. For a small donation, they would clean up the grave, paint it and place candles on it, as they were difficult to get to, some ten foot in the air.
Space is scarce in Manila, so graves are stacked vertically
We found my father in law’s grave, and his looked like one of the best, as it had tiles on it. A candle was placed on the grave and we said a silent prayer. A small tear escaped from my Fiancé’s eye and I hold her close to me. There is not much solitude here as we allow the streams of people to pass and find their own special grave. Some people camp out on the graves all day and there was one behind us that had a tent type covering set up over their grave and looked like they had been there many hours.
For a small fee, local kids will climb up and give the grave a new coat of paint and light a candle
Two priests walk by and offer to bless our loved one. They say some prayers and throw some holy water on the grave and then in turn hand the holy water to us to squirt some on the grave. After a donation, they wander off in search of another family they could help.
We then move onto the grave of our Lola (grandmother). We find it and a man scrapes off the mud as
hers in on ground level, but it is covered with more graves on top, so there is only a small opening to see the headstone plaque. After some reflection time we head off towards the exit, we run into a family friend we haven’t seen in years and after some catching up and an exchange of phone numbers we leave.
We have some lunch and catch a tricycle back to catch the Jeepney area. There are five per tricycle if you count the driver. After a short bumpy ride we are ready to go home. It has been a long day by the time we get home, it had been full of surprises and a great experience. After all this is why I am travelling, to see how other cultures act and to live through some of their customs first hand.
R.I.P Joselito Paras 1961-2011