My ‘semi-pagan’ parents


Today is the 1st of November, All Saints’ Day.

People in the Philippines remember their dead relatives on this day instead of the more appropriate day, tomorrow, the 2nd of November, All Souls’ Day. But no one is dictating people from this island what’s proper or not. They’ll do what please them and follow the traditions they’ve acquired from their parents, and hope to pass this on to their children.

My parents left our house early this morning to go to the cemetery where my uncle, grandfather, and great grandmother were buried. According to my mother, they cleaned the area and paid somebody to repaint their gravestones. A fact she said in a rather ironic tone to emphasize the money they could have saved had I waken up earlier and gone with them to the cemetery. I pretended not to care, and mentioned sarcastically the importance of having at least eight hours of sleep each day.


Good thing they transferred the bodies to this private cemetery several years ago from the municipal graveyard. If not, then aside from cleaning the grave, they would also have to find the grave and sort them from other identical graves, or worse would have to make do with somebody else’s grave to light candles for as most graves disappear for no reason.

This afternoon, my father asked me to grate coconuts he would use for the different delicacies made from sticky rice for the evening. This is the first time I spent November 1st with my family after six years. The different practices they were doing struck me as something curious; this after a long time of just doing them without asking why I was doing them.


Earlier this evening, my mother started putting small portions of the delicacies my father cooked on small plates, then took her seldom-used glasses and poured beer, Coke, and water inside. My youngest sister plucked four branches of red santan from my mother’s ornamental flower garden, and together with the food, placed them on top of the old sewing machine.

I was even more shocked when my father left few cigarette sticks beside the plates of ‘pagkaon sang patay (food for the dead)’, as he referred to them. He added that the souls of our dead relatives will visit us this evening to partake the food we offered them. I could not believe my father unknowingly conspired with my mother. But he seemed not to care that I reacted quite vehemently.

She then complained that I did not want to join her for the prayer and related with nostalgia how I used to accompany her during prayers for the dead when I was younger.

I said ‘no’ and continued writing.

After her prayers, she returned to the living room and continued watching TV. “Ma, can I eat those (pointing to the food on top of the sewing machine) after midnight?”

“No,” she gravely replied.


11 thoughts on “My ‘semi-pagan’ parents”

  1. an asian replies, when a westerner comments that the dead won’t really be able to eat the food left on the grave, that they won’t be able to smell the flowers that the first guy left there either ;-). to each his own traditions, i suppose, that of the Pinoys being just as unreasonable as those of other cultures.

  2. going back to my hometown made me understand and remember things i’ve misunderstood and forgotten.

    thanks for the information, mountain top experience.

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