All Souls Ceremony

All Souls Ceremony

I gotta figure after this trip that my afterlife will be pretty plush with all the strides I have made to reconcile things here on Earth.  Thus far on the trip I have brought all 32 of my wandering souls back together in Laos, gotten closer to enlightenment by walking in circles in Tibet and cleansed myself in the annual Songkran festival in Bangkok.  But, considering I have lived my life from the belief that “only the good die young…” it never hurts to participate in another ceremony that might redeem me enough to help out on judgement day.

The smoke-filled scene of the cemetery in Sagada on All Souls Day

Lucky for me I had just the opportunity I was looking for in the Philippines by honoring the dead on All Souls Day.  While in many countries, All Saints Day is a solemn holiday to remember those that have passed on, in the Philippines it’s a day of festivities. November first marks the beginning of the Filipino “Araw ng mgba Patay,” the celebration of the Day of the Dead and the fete continues through the next day, All Souls Day.

A family gravestone with a fire burning bright in front

All Saints Day and All Souls Day are traditional catholic holidays to commemorate the saints and souls of the deceased. The holiday remains an important religious day for the catholic church.  However some of the more secular aspects are celebrated by the non-catholic community, such as the practice of turning the entire cemetery into a huge bonfire party.  Let me tell you if this is how Filipinos celebrate the dead I can only imagine the party for those still living!  Large groups of family and friends spend the day, sometimes even the whole night, eating, drinking and holding reunions at the graves of their loved ones while stoking the fire.

A man tends to the fire at his loved one's grave

The plume of smoke over the cemetery in Sagada created a surreal effect making it difficult to distinguish between those paying their respects to the dearly departed and those celebrating their life with a drink.  The atmosphere shifted from Halloween-like shenanigans to deeply spiritual as I made my way through the masses of people and dodged tombstones.  It was like nothing I had ever experienced before.  One moment I might be witnessing an intimate moment amongst family members as they remembered their deceased loved one and then next moment I could be handed a beer to toast that persons’ many years on Earth.

Two children squatting by the head stones of those that have passed on.

In many ways the fiery party embodied my vision of the perfect funeral, one where there is time for reflection, storytelling and the recounting of good times as well as all the makings for properly celebrating a life well lived.  If you ever find yourself in the Philippines for this unique holiday I encourage you to head to the nearest cemetery and join the festivities.  Regardless of your religious affiliations you will most certainly leave with a higher appreciation of life.

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LOCAVORista: A curious adventurer exploring the culinary delights and local traditions around the world. Currently on a 3 year round-the-world trip discovering amazing cultures, must-eats and off-the-beaten-track destinations.

About the Author
LOCAVORista: A curious adventurer exploring the culinary delights and local traditions around the world. Currently on a 3 year round-the-world trip discovering amazing cultures, must-eats and off-the-beaten-track destinations.
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