Why is Undas the Filipino Halloween?

·Contributor
·4 min read
Students with painted faces take part in a Halloween party a day before the All Saints Day in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, October 31, 2018. REUTERS/Erik De Castro
Students with painted faces take part in a Halloween party a day before the All Saints Day in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, October 31, 2018. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

In most parts of the world, October 31 or Halloween is the time for scary stories, fancy costumes, trick-or-treating, and all things dark and spooky.

In the Philippines and other Latin-influenced countries, however, it has a much deeper meaning. Halloween is just a prelude to the week-long celebration of Undas, a Filipino term for Día de Todos Los Santos or All Saints' Day, derived from the Spanish word "honrar" (to honor).

FILE PHOTO: The Glastonbury Border Morris dance at sunset as they celebrate Samhain in Glastonbury on November 4, 2017 in Somerset, England. To celebrate Samhain, the Glastonbury Dragons, alongside Gwythyr Ap Greidal, the Summer King and the Winter King, Gwyn Ap Nudd, were paraded through the town to the lower slopes of Glastonbury Tor where the event was marked with ritual theatre, dancing and a fire to honour the dead. (Source: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
FILE PHOTO: The Glastonbury Border Morris dance at sunset as they celebrate Samhain in Glastonbury on November 4, 2017 in Somerset, England. To celebrate Samhain, the Glastonbury Dragons, alongside Gwythyr Ap Greidal, the Summer King and the Winter King, Gwyn Ap Nudd, were paraded through the town to the lower slopes of Glastonbury Tor where the event was marked with ritual theatre, dancing and a fire to honour the dead. (Source: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

The story behind modern-day Halloween dates back to the eighth century. It stemmed from the ancient Celtic celebration of “Samhain” when people would light bonfires and dress up in costumes to ward off spirits and mark the beginning of the "darker-half" of the year. 

In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III proclaimed November 1 as a day to honor all saints. People practicing All Saints Day, (also known as All Hallows' Day or Hallowmas), eventually adopted some customs of Samhain such as the use of pumpkins, and Halloween became a marriage of the two customs.

Apart from All Saints’ Day, Filipinos and Latin Catholics also celebrate All Souls Day a day of prayer and remembrance for their dearly departed on the following day, November 2. Those who follow the traditions honor the memory of loved ones in different ways depending on their culture.

Purgatory

FILE PHOTO:
FILE PHOTO: "Jesus Christ descended into Limbo, with the victorious standard of the cross and crushing the spirit of evil." (Source: Getty Images)

Many customs, however, are rooted in the popular Catholic notions of purgatory, a place of “purification” for souls waiting to ascend to heaven. 

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: Child in Halloween costume. Home festive interior with fall leaves and squash. (Source: Getty Creatives)Child in Halloween costume. Kids trick or treat. Little boy with pumpkin lantern. Baby in witch hat. Autumn season holiday decoration. Home festive interior with fall leaves and squash. (Source: Getty Creatives)
FILE PHOTO: Child in Halloween costume. Home festive interior with fall leaves and squash. (Source: Getty Creatives)

For instance, bell tolling is meant to comfort souls being cleansed. Candles serve as a beacon of hope for those who are lost in the shadows. Soul cakes are given to children coming to sing or pray for the dead, giving rise to “trick-or-treating” which comes from the belief that the dead roamed the earth and needed to be appeased.

Filipino Undas

FILE PHOTO: Relatives gather near the grave of their loved one in a cemetery during the commemoration of All Saints' Day in Manila November 1, 2013. On All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day, Roman Catholic feasts on November 1 and 2 while cemeteries across the country are crowded with people paying their respects to departed loved ones by offering flowers, candles and prayers. (Source: REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco)
FILE PHOTO: Relatives gather near the grave of their loved one in a cemetery during the commemoration of All Saints' Day in Manila November 1, 2013. On All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day, Roman Catholic feasts on November 1 and 2 while cemeteries across the country are crowded with people paying their respects to departed loved ones by offering flowers, candles and prayers. (Source: REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco)

Filipinos usually visit the tombs of their departed on November 1 and 2. But they clean the graves and mausoleums as early as weeks before. Both the 31st of October and the 1st of November are often declared non-working holidays to allow people extra time to spend time with their families and honor the deceased. Since a lot of people need to travel to their hometowns, schools often suspend classes for an entire week otherwise known as Undas break. 

Families reunite and camp out at the cemetery with feasts and good cheer to honor their loved ones. They offer praise and thanksgiving for their deceased kin through prayers, flowers, candles, and food. Chinese Filipino families also burn incense.

FILE PHOTO: Women sell flowers and candles outside a cemetery in Manila, the Philippines, Oct. 28, 2020. (Source: Xinhua/Rouelle Umali via Getty Images)
FILE PHOTO: Women sell flowers and candles outside a cemetery in Manila, the Philippines, Oct. 28, 2020. (Source: Xinhua/Rouelle Umali via Getty Images)

As most of the country’s traditions are often influenced by Western culture, some Filipinos also practice trick-or-treating, celebrate with costume parties, and of course, tell spooky stories to try and scare each other.

Watch out for the next part of our Undas series to know more about Filipino Halloween customs.

Ana Catalina Paje is a development journalist passionate about grassroots communication geared towards genuine social change. She also writes about showbiz, lifestyle, and all things Pinoy pride. The views expressed are her own.

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