In less than a week’s time, millions of children will be dressed up in spooky masks and costumes to go trick or treating and amass sackfuls of candies to give them tooth decay.
In my childhood, October 31st was celebrated by going to the cemetery for last-minute cleaning of the tombs of our ancestors, pulling the weeds by our hands or cutting the errant branches with a sundang and repainting the tombs. We also made sure to buy the most somber looking candles and the least colorful flowers that made their to our small town (by the time they made their way there, some candles would be thrice their original price and the flowers had wilted). We also labored all afternoon and night to cook dishes that we would eat the day after.
The day after, on November 1, the day we called Pista Minatay, we woke up early, ate our breakfast with weary eyes and limbs and rode the tricycle or trisikad to go to the town public cemetery. Armed with umbrellas (especially the ladies), the most somber looking candles, the least colorful flowers, a handkerchief or two, and a prayer book with some Latin prayers, we braved our way through the horror-film worthy entrance of our cemetery.
The walk that would have taken us five minutes from the entrance to our family tombs, took at least half an hour. Aside from zigzagging through the mass of bodies, dead and alive, our elders chitchatted with our relatives, colleagues at work and strangers who shouted their names. As we baked in the sun and extended our hand to hold the umbrella higher to make sure our elders did not get the sun’s rays, they talked their hearts’ delight as if the trip was a social one.
As we finally reached our destination, we cleaned the tombs once again, positioned the umbrella as best as we could so more people would get coverage, lit the candles with our posporo, place the flowers in Nescafe glasses with water (vases were for the impractical, banana stalks were for the people who lived out of town).
Then, we prayed.
After a respectable time in our own area, we visited tombs of other family members, which meant more zigzagging, more chitchatting and a bucket of sweat. Some of our dead relatives were in “apartment” type tombs, so we had to climb a ladder to place a lighted candle and make a short prayer. Once we finished a few more stops, we left our elders and ventured on our own.
We checked every candle in the cemetery for overflowing. Never take the candle, just the wax that that gathered at its foot. Then, we made a ball out of it. I do not know what for, but it was something we would forget as soon as we arrived home.
At home, we prepared food for the dead, lit a candle or two at the altar where the plates of food were offered. They were accompanied by a glass of water and a pinch of salt. Then, we prayed for their souls.
At night, we would look at the food at the altar, look at how much of it was eaten (usually they looked the same as they were at lunch time) and hazarded if our dead loved ones were happy with it or not.
Then, we would watch “Magandang Gabi, Bayan” (or days before this depending on the TV schedule) and watch all sorts of scary Filipino myths and legends. “Magandang Gabi, Bayan” featured kapre, tikbalang, aswang, mananaggal, duwende, mangkukulam and other frightening creatures enough to scare the bejeezus out of impressionable children. We would huddle together and wait for whomever would shout first. The trick was to close your eyes and cover your ears. 🙂 “Magandang Gabi, Bayan” was my childhood’s trick or treating. It did not offer candies to satisfy my sweet tooth, but it offered an experience that will last a lifetime.