November 1st is a very important date in the Filipino calendar. Yet until very recently I was completely unaware of the occasion. I was an All Saint's Day virgin. The first time I heard about it was when Kuya Teddy invited me to a picnic at the cemetery. (NB. It's 'brother' Teddy now- he doesn't like Tatay ('father') because he thinks it makes him sound too old!) I thought I must have heard him wrong because surely we wouldn't be eating food. In a graveyard. The day after Halloween. But the week leading up to the event confirmed my confusion: we were going to be having a party in the cemetery as a way of reminiscing lost loved ones. A feast shared with family members dead and buried.
The word 'feast' doesn't quite cut it because there was enough food to feed the 5,000! I don't know why I am so surprised, as there has never been a time when the Filipino's have not fed me well! But All Saint's Day took it to another level: there was every kind of dish imaginable, enough snacks to start a corner shop and of course, a vast amount of the white stuff. Sophia and I decided to make our own contribution to the food drive, providing an original take on seafood pancid. Despite some cooking criticism from the family, we did- in the end- receive Lola Emma's approval and were able to offer up our dish to the dead. Afterall, the ceremony is about feasting WITH your departed relatives- so there has to be enough food to go around, for the hungry family and the starving spirits alike!
Upon arriving at the cemetery, I carefully tried to navigate my way around the graves, fearful of stepping on 'someone.' The family laughed as I tried to delicately tip-toe over grave-after-grave in order to reach the Mesina plot. I shouldn't have been so worried about waking the dead with all my stumbling because moments after I reached the family marquee, a 'Hello Kitty' rug was rolled out over the grave of Teddy's father- turning it into a sort of play area for the kids. Toys, food and children spread out over the tomb stones alongside the commemorative flowers and candles. The latter even became an object of fun when the girls worked out how to create new candles from the heated wax.
Believe it or not but the family graves really did become a place of fun, fuelled by lots of food and fizzy drinks. It was a ceremony comparable to Christmas, bringing together the family and extended family members from all across the country. The occasion gave people the chance to catch-up, indulge and share stories about their departed relatives.
In conclusion, All Saint's Day is a slightly strange but wonderful way to commemorate the dead. If people were to embrace it, I think the occasion could find a place on the UK calendar, because we don't have a comparable occasion to remember our departed. But perhaps the ceremony is too Catholic for our agnostic culture. However, regardless of religion it could be another excuse for a national holiday?...