Guest Author - Rachel Meneses-Ponce
In the calendar of Philippine holidays and non-working regular days, November 1 is the day for the observance of All Saintsí Day and November 2 is All Soulsí Day. While this is retained in the official calendar of Philippine national events, over the years, November 1 has become the day where Filipinos observe All Soulsí Day.
A week before November 1 marks the beginning of clean-up activities in the cemeteries. Tombstones are spruced up with fresh coatings of white paint, grasses trimmed, plants and flowers put in place. As the day draws near preparations also escalate. Transportation facilities like airports, seaports and bus terminals also gear up for an increase in service requirements as many would travel back to the provinces. This is also the time for profit-making for vendors. Prices of candles and flowers jack up due to great demand. Snack bars, food vendors set up kiosks ready for the crowd. A festive air is prevalent.
The cemeteries become camping grounds. By October 30, people start trooping to these places. They bring tents, food and water supplies, and things that would ward off boredom or amuse the young ones like toys, board games, not to mention those gadgets every one seems to be crazy about Ė Ipad, Ipod, laptop, etc. Videoke, karaoke and playing cards are no longer allowed to be brought inside the cemeteries.
Authorities, both from the government and the church (Catholic and other Christian denominations) would want observance of November 1 and 2 to be solemn and a day of prayer for the saints and the departed souls respectively. However, it is the contrary in actual practice. Filipinos take advantage of the two days as an opportunity to visit the graves and pay homage to their departed loved ones. These days are also time for reuniting with family members and relatives who they have not seen or been in touch with for some time. Thus, it is also a celebration and time for reunions than a mere remembrance of the dead.
On the day itself, policemen are strategically assigned in all cemeteries, public and private, to maintain security and order. Drinking of liquor is banned. Bringing into the cemetery of guns, knives, ice pick, even stainless forks that can be used to inflict bodily harm are prohibited. It is not uncommon for unfortunate incidents to occur during times like this when hundreds of thousands throng into a given place such as a cemetery. Parents are reminded to supervise closely their young children to avoid them getting lost in the crowd. Older folks are provided with free use of wheelchairs.
Hence, emergency clinic stations are also strategically located for easy access in case someone needed immediate medical attention or first-aid. Needless to say, traffic is chaotic. In Metro Manila, most major roads leading to cemeteries are normally closed from traffic - reason why some would pitch tent at least two days before the day itself.
Staying home on this day and praying in the privacy of your own place would be a wiser move. Visiting the grave/s of your departed loved ones can be done on any given day anyway.