Remembering the departed

Published November 1, 2021, 12:12 AM

by Manila Bulletin

Throughout history, societies and civilizations all over the world have set aside a day or two to remember their dearly departed.

This practice stems from mankind’s innate love and respect for every human being, especially in death. Feelings of sympathy are most pronounced in humans as a reaction to one’s suffering, pain or grief which are all connected to somebody’s demise.

Every epoch has its way of honoring the dead, often influenced by the dominant religion or cultural order of that time. Christendom had the most sway in originally designating three days — October 31, November 1 and 2 — for this commemoration that all involved the dead.  These three days comprise what was once called “Allhallowtide,” a combination of Halloween, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day.  

As observed in Europe, North America, and later, Asia, the night of Halloween is the most happy, enjoyable and looked forward to by children.  It has become a night of fun and frolic with activities such as making jack-o-lanterns from pumpkins, bobbing for apples, doing trick-or-treat in the neighborhood, etc.

The night of Halloween is followed by All Saints’ Day, a holy day of obligation for the Catholic Church.  It was initially established as a day of celebratory remembrance for all of the Church’s martyrs.  It was Pope Gregory III who chose Nov. 1 as its date, coinciding with the dedication of St. Peter’s Basilica to “all saints.”

Since the Catholic faith considers all souls in heaven as “saints,” whether they are recognized or not by the Vatican, it has been easy for everyone to remember their relatives and friends who had died on Nov. 1, the thought being they are peacefully in heaven with the Lord.  This must be the reason why Nov. 1 has become the culmination of this three-day remembering, with Nov. 2, the real All Souls Day relegated to second place, except in Mexico where they have their festive Dia del Muertos.

For two years now, the observance of Halloween, All Saints Day and All Souls Day in the Philippines have been tremendously altered by the COVID-19 pandemic that necessitated the closure of all cemeteries to avoid the mass gathering of people which has been feared — and with good reason — to be a superspreader.  

COVID or no COVID, however, Filipinos who are steeped in strong family values, Catholic teachings and rites, and native cultural traditions, will always find a way to honor their dead and reminisce about their good days while living.  This remembrance includes prayers and other religious activities in church or at home, lighting candles at the doorsteps, and eating a simple family meal as if their dead were also present at the dinner table.