A Uniquely Pinoy Undas » Manila Bulletin Lifestyle



By Joyce Reyes-Aguila

Many characteristics make us Filipinos stand out. For one, the way we commemorate and celebrate occasions are deeply rooted in traditions that are passed on from one generation to another. During All Saints Day (November 1) and All Souls Day (November 2), collectively called Undas, there are certain practices that are imperative for many families. Honoring saints, and family and friends who have passed away is important to Filipinos and this is seen in the many ways they are honored.

Those who discover this part of our culture around this time of year find great interest in understanding why we do things a certain way for Undas. Learning about these means also learning about some historical influences for our colonizers, our spirituality, and the strong spirit of family togetherness we value. Here are some practices that are uniquely ours during Undas.

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A group of people who represent the souls of the departed go from one house to another to ask for alms and prayers. It is believed that when they are ignored, a kaluluwa(soul) will play tricks on the people residing in the home. The practice is usually done on the eve of All Souls Day and is considered by some as the closest tradition to Halloween.

Leaving Food and Lights on Outside.

Especially for those who are not able to go to cemeteries to pay their respects, it is imperative to leave food and light a candle outside their homes. This is because the souls of the departed are said to visit their former homes during this time. If they do not see any sign that they are remembered, they will get hurt or feel bad towards their loved ones. Some are even believed to manifest themselves in the dreams of the living or find other ways. Ghosts are said to make the living smell scents that can remind them to honor them, like a scent of their perfume or flowers.

Sleeping in the Cemetery.

Filipinos do not just leave flowers and candles on the gravestones of their loved ones during Undas. They can dedicate an entire day to up to two days (or longer) to physically be with their loved ones at their final resting place. As Undas, also called PistangPatay (Feast for the Dead) is a time for family, reunions also take place at the cemeteries. Food, tents, tables, chairs are all prepared for those who will stay overnight to be with their departed loved ones longer. In some provinces, this practice is called “paglalamay” where families are said to guard the remains of their departed from the “aswang,” a shapeshifting creature in Filipino folklore that can take the form of a bat, a black cat, or a black dog. It is believed that one way of spotting an aswang is to look into their eyes and check your reflection. If it happens to be upside-down, then he or she belongs to another realm.

Preparing a Plate for the Dead.

After prayers, families partake in a meal. As part of tradition, a plate of food is set for the departed. Similar to designating a place at the dining table, the living invite the dead to eat with the rest of the family who have probably travelled from different cities just to be together to honor them. Some families make it a point to include a favorite dish of their departed in the meal. This practice is called “pang-aatang” in the province of Ilocos.


Offering prayers and masses to the departed is part of many cultures around the world. As a predominantly Catholic nation, Filipinos dedicate time to pray together and to light candles for their dead. Amid the busy occasion and togetherness of family, the central focus of Undas is honoring the departed. Priests even roam cemeteries for families who wish to have the tombstones of their dead blessed. Prayers are said to be needed by some souls in Purgatory who still need to be cleansed of their sins before they are allowed to enter heaven. We are also enjoined to pray for the dead every day for the eternal repose of their souls.

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