By EV Rieza
The Philippines has 18 national holidays in a year, celebrated either merrily or solemnly, or both. This is aside from the fiestas and festivals that mark numerous places all over the archipelago, whole year round, lending color to the Filipino’s way of life. With the dreaded pandemic this year, revelers have shunned these celebrations, holding them instead in a quite personal manner, in the safety of their homes.
Filipinos, however, may find it strange to spend ‘Undas’ inside their homes, which would be a little too way-off their tradition, if not creepy. Lighting candles and putting wreaths of flowers in the living room?; in the bedroom, the altar or the kitchen?; at the porch probably, and the garden?
That would be Halloween with its ‘trick or treat’ fancy, which is said to have originated from ancient Celtic harvest festivals – particularly the Gaelic festival Samhain – of pagan roots. Well, your choice, for as long as you remember your dead loved ones.
I’m reminded of this popular joke about a family member who heard the voice of his dead kin at the eve of All Souls Day, deep and icy: “Tonyo, kung di ka makakarating, okey lang. Ako na lang ang dadalaw sa’yo… (It’s okay Tonyo, if you can’t come to the cemetery, then I’ll just pay you a visit instead) ….”
Anyway, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) has passed a resolution ordering the closure of all cemeteries, columbariums, and memorial parks during the observance period of ‘Undas,’, which comprises the twin All Saints Day and All Souls Day holidays.
Those who cannot let Undas pass without paying glimpses to their departed loved ones’ place of rest, have opted to visit cemeteries earlier to avoid the crowd, before the twin feasts of the souls and the saints. The problem is, all the rest might be thinking the same way and they might find themselves still caught up in monstrous crowds.
The Feast of All Saints is observed on November 1 by Catholics church and other Christians, and is a public holiday in the Philippines. All Souls Day which falls on November 2 is the day when Christians remember their loved ones who have passed away. These are the days when cemeteries become traditionally, but notoriously crowded in all parts of the country.
In Manila, Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso has earlier ordered the temporary closure of cemeteries from October 31 to November 4, with his Executive Order No. 38. Based on records, there were 105,837 graves and 39,228 graves at the North and the South cemeteries, respectively. Imagine how many people would be in those places at a given time during Undas, which would constitute violation of the ban on mass gatherings.
Those who want to carry on the Undas tradition should be able to visit the cemeteries anytime during the whole month of October before October 31. This is aimed at avoiding the gathering of millions of people at the same time.
The mayor had issued a public appeal for his decision to close these places for the safety of the city’s residents. We hope the rest of the country’s local governments will follow Moreno’s example. The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority said earlier it would favor the idea of closing the cemeteries.
Two known businesses are bound to suffer from the closure of cemeteries in Manila and other parts of the country: the candle and floral industries. A flower vendor interviewed on TV said he is likely to lose P20,000 during the four-day closure of North Cemetery. Another, a shop owner, says he will lose P100,000 this year having only a few or no buyers at all.
Significantly, however, they expressed no regrets, knowing fully well that the order aims to save people from the threats of Covid-19.