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All Saints' Day

Although Halloween is not observed in the Philippines, there are still some spooky celebrations!

Like many Catholic dominated countries, All Saints and All Souls Day were observed on November 1st and 2nd. In the Philippines, November 1st is a non-working holiday. Many people use this day away from work to travel to the grave sites to clean, do upkeep, and spend time being close to their deceased relatives. 

I spent these feast days in Sagada, Mountain Province. Sagada is a tourist town with a population of about 11,000. Unlike the Central Philippines, which became a Spanish colony in 1521, the mountain region has remained largely independent. 360 years of primary independence has allowed for the preservation of Indigenous traditions in the area. In 1904, the first Episcopal church was built by Americans in Sagad. Now, about 95% of the population is baptized Episcopalian, but historically traditional values and practices are still recognized. One example of the mix of indigenous and Anglican traditions is the observance of All Saints and All Souls Day. 

Here, I will share a limited experience of these holidays, as I was only able to participate in a small portion of the celebrations.

I spent my time in Sagada with one of the deacons at the Episcopal church, her sister, and an E-Care staff member. On November 1st, All Saints Day,  we started the day by going to a harvest thanksgiving celebration. The celebration, Begnas, takes place at least twice a year in correspondence with the harvesting and planting of the rice. As an outsider, I did not get to witness most of the ceremony, during which the men gather together to pray and slaughter a pig. The pig is then divided between those present. Afterward, the men that participated come down to the community. The community gathers, and there, the women contribute rice, rice, wine, as well as other drinks and food items. The celebration continues with music, dancing, and distribution of the pig to each person who contributed food items. Afterwards, everyone goes back to their families and neighbors to cook the pork and share it in the community. 

At 3pm that day, the All Saint’s Day Requiem Mass was held. At this service, all the names of church members who have died in the past fifty years are read aloud, a process which takes at least twenty minutes. During the service, attendees bring sa-eng (pine wood) to the front of the church to be blessed. The priest blesses many big bottles of holy water and then uses the holy water to bless the wood and flowers present. After this blessing, the church proceeds to the cemetery, and at the cemetery, the priest blesses a fire which is used by everyone to light small bonfires at each of their relative’s graves. It was interesting to see such a crowded cemetery, and to see every grave lit up with fire. Children were running around, and people talking and laughing, making it a very joyous occasion. The fires burned as the sun set, making this a very beautiful and simultaneously eerie celebration to observe. 

Unfortunately, I was unable to participate in the festivities of  All Souls Day.

It was fascinating to see a tradition which holds the church as a large focal point of celebration. As an Episcopalian, I am used to being part of a small church which most people don’t know much about. Similar to where I live, in most parts of the Philippines, including Santiago, this is the case. When we think of big Christian events or holy places around the world, a lot of times they involve theRoman Catholic church. It was so special for me to see and experience a tradition and a place where being part of the Anglican tradition was center instead of off to the side.

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