How Filipinos Pay their Respect to the Dead

A special day is set aside each year by Filipinos to remember their dead. The day is popularly known as undas, a term which perhaps originated from the Spanish phrase honras de funebre or “to honor the funeral.” The Catholic Church has designated November 1 All Saints’ day, for the faithful to pay homage to the saints in heaven. The following day. November 2, is All Souls’ Day, for the faithful to remember their departed. However, for most Filipinos, All Saints’ Day is observed as a feast to honor the dead. This is undas, and as with any other feast, the revelry starts days before the occasion.

The weekend before the first of November, people troop to the cemeteries to clean the graves of their loved ones. They pull out weeds and put a new coat of paint on the graves.

On the eve of undas, which is Halloween to the Western world, a practice similar to “Trick or Treat,” known as pangaluluwa, is observed. Young people organize themselves into groups and go from house to house to sing for alms for the souls in purgatory. In a melancholy tone, they chant:


Kaluluwa kaming tambing,
Sa purgatoryo nanggaling,
Doon po ang gawa namin,
Araw, gabi manlangin
Kung kami po ay lilimusan,
Dali-daliin po lamang
Baka kami mapagsarhan,
Ng pinto ng kalangitan.

(Ordinary souls are we,
from Purgatory we have come,
And there we are duty bound
to pray night and day.
If you are to give us alms,
please do it soon
For the door of heaven
may close on us forever.)

Houses that respond give whatever amount they wish to give. However, some houses do not respond and their dwellers pretend to be asleep or out of the house. In such cases, the signers engage in petty thievery, such as the stealing of eggs, chickens or any small farm animal or fruits, and blame the spirits for the misdeed.

The next day usually starts off with the Misa Cantada, which sets the mood of the festivities. The faithful then proceed to their respective sementerios or memorial parks, to pay respect to their dead. They usually bring flowers (fresh or plastic) and light candles to go with their prayer offerings. Some families take this opportunity to have a reunion. So they pitch a tent over the grave, set up their cassette radios, and lay out fiesta. Some people even sleep in the cemetery on the eve of undas and go home late in the evening of the feast itself.

Those who cannot go to the cemetery light candles outside their homes to appease their departed. Family prayers are said and usually end with “May the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen”

Chinese Filipinos also have their feast for the dead. On All Souls’ Day, they celebrate one of their three festivals for the dead, the Hungry Ghost Festival. This is intended for the unhappy spirits who are neglected because they have no relatives to attend to them, or are spirits of beggars or those who have suffered injustices. It is believes that these spirits are hungry and thirsty and that someone has to attend to their needs. Offerings of food, paper money, paper clothes, paper houses, and prayers offered for and in behalf of these spirits are made in the hope that they may attain a happier condition. Having made the spirits happy, the family can then partake of the food offerings and all the aper offerings are burned.