A couple of weeks ago, my mother Juling and some of her children and grandchildren attended mass at the Sto. Rosario Church then proceeded to the Carreta Cemetery to visit the grave of my father Tiyong, pray and light candles. The cemetery was already spruced up and cemetery workers were connecting power lines for the lights.
Remembering the dead is an age-old Filipino tradition, especially on the dates we have reserved for it: Nov. 1 and 2. I observed closely the rituals linked to the celebration when I stayed in the Cebu hinterlands for around six years. Some variations of those rituals are in place in the urban areas but the essence and religious underpinning remain.
Globalization and commercialism are, however, gradually but surely effecting changes in the beliefs and practices followed on All Saints Day and All Souls Day, especially in the cities and metro areas. Businesses, for example, promote the western rite of Halloween, which is rooted in a culture different from hours. I find this sad, of course.
Either these businessmen are not creative enough in finding ways to profit from the celebration while staying true to the Kalag-kalag rituals or the power of global capitalism is just too strong to resist. Selling Halloween products like masks and other peripherals is being done worldwide, thus the aggressive promotion of the western rite.
Kalag-kalag is remembering, praying for and offering masses for the departed and is borne out of respect for the dead. In old times, spirits were called upon to help the living during difficult periods. In Cebu City’s mountain barangays, families slaughter pigs, do the halad ritual on Nov. 1, then go to the cemetery and visit houses on Nov. 2.
In the urban areas, the distinction between All Saints Day and All Souls Day has been muddled, and the practice is to go to the cemetery on either Nov. 1 or 2 or both to light candles and bring food, if they have prepared any, for the halad. Masses are held at the cemeteries but the festive atmosphere there often overpowers the desired solemnity.
Halloween, meanwhile, has its origins in Gaelic culture and is celebrated on Oct. 31 (eve of All Hollow’s Day, now also known as All Saints Day). The Gaels believed that on that day the boundary between the living and the dead was dissolved and the dead posed danger to the living by causing problems such as sickness or damage to crops.
While Kalag-kalag is about the living paying homage to the dead, Halloween is about the living fearing the dead. Costumes and masks (which have become commercial items) were worn during the celebration to either mimic the evil spirits or placate them. Included in the rituals, therefore are reading scary stories or watching horror movies.
What is observable is that, in tandem with some business establishments, a section of the media is obsessed more with Halloween, talking about “trick or treat” (which is virtually non-existent in the country), and transforming “Kalag-kalag” into Halloween-like horror-fest. I don’t know if they can differentiate the essence of the two celebrations.
Obviously, I prefer the rituals of the “Kalag-kalag,” meaning its solemnity and respect for the departed, over Halloween’s tendency to alienate the dead from the living.
(I wrote this for my October 31, 2008 column in Sun.Star Cebu)