Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso has ordered that the city’s cemeteries be closed from October 21 to November 3. This is traditionally the period when Filipinos troop to cemeteries all over the land to light candles and pray at the graves of their loved ones – the Undas.
November 1 is All Saints Day in the Church’s calendar, while November 2 is All Souls Day. In the United States, it is October 31 – Halloween — which is more generally celebrated, with children in ghost costumes going around the neighborhood to collect candies and other gifts. In the Phiippines, after 350 years of the Spanish colonial period, it is Undas which is widely observed all over the country.
All Saints Day — the Feast of All Saints – is observed on November 1 by the Catholic church and other Christian churches. It is also a public holiday in many countries, including the Philippines. The next day, All Souls Day, November 2, Christians remember their loved ones who have passed away.
The Filipino observance of Undas covers both holidays. As early as October 31, most Filipinos go to cemeteries to visit the graves of loved ones, some spending the night. They light up candles, offer flowers, and say prayers for the souls of the departed. Undas is one of two times in the year when huge numbers of Filipinos living in the cities go back to their home provinces; the other is at Christmas time.
This year, however, Undas comes at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is surging around the country and around the world and the government has banned mass gatherings of all kinds. That includes the huge crowds that normally go to cemeteries at this time.
Mayor Domagoso issued Executive Order No. 38, ordering the temporary closure of all city cemeteries for four days – October 31 to November 3. Millions of people normally visit the 105,837 graves at the North Cemetery and the 39,228 graves at the South Cemetery during Undas – but this would be in violation of the ban on mass gatherings in this time of the pandemic. The mayor appealed for the public’s understanding, saying is order is for the safety of the city’s residents.
Those who want to carry on the tradition of Undas should be able to visit the cemeteries anytime during the whole month of October before October 31. They can also visit the loved ones’ graves in the weeks after November 3. The mayor’s ban was simply aimed at the avoiding the gathering of millions of people at the same time.
There will be one other occasion this year when masses of Filipinos normally come together – the nine dawn masses of Simbang Gabi starting December 16. There is a big chance, according to a University of the Philippines team monitoring COVID-19 infections in the country that we may be back to close-to-normal living before the end of the year, with the steady drop in the number of cases.
That is three months from today. In the meantime, we must carry on under the restrictions, including the Mayor Domagoso’s four-day closure of the city’s cemeteries in this year’s Undas.