Merging My Two Cultures: Celebrating Halloween and All Souls Day in the Philippines

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Today is bittersweet for me, as I sit inside my cozy home looking out at the mountains and the snow covered roads. We had a wonderful Halloween last night. A stroll through the heated streets of Vail Village, collecting treats from beautiful shops and hotels. I love where I live and this beautiful community we are a part of, but it’s times like this, holidays to be exact, when I realize how far away I am from family.

Last year, we spent 3 weeks in the Philippines from mid October to November. This was a very special trip for me since I hadn’t seen my relatives in 11 years. The last time they had seen me, I was a 20 year old college student whose only worry at the time were college classes and a part time job. This time, I was a completely different person. I was a wife and a mother who was eager to teach her blonde haired, hazel eyed little boy about his culture and what it meant to be Filipino.

Halloween

Halloween is not largely celebrated in the Philippines. I assume it’s gained popularity from globalization and the influence of American culture, but for most Filipinos, it is a holiday that goes unnoticed. When we knew we would be spending Halloween in another country, my heart ached a bit for Riley knowing he would miss out on dressing up and trick-or-treating. So I decided we would throw a Halloween party during our trip. We would dress up, invite everyone in the barrio, make tons of food, pass out candy to all the kids and have dancing and kareoke, of course.

On the day of, I was thrilled to bring my two cultures together. I asked my uncle to give me a ride to Tubigon, a small port city that had everything our barrio lacked, a grocery store and a mall. And honestly, the day started out perfectly. While waiting for our ride, we bought a bottle of San Miguel and shared it on the porch of a small sari sari store. We brought a couple people with us, had street food for lunch then made our way to the mall where we found a very small section of Halloween items. As I perused the aisle, I understood why Halloween would be a difficult holiday to celebrate. Everything was incredibly expensive, even for myself, a tourist converting the Dollar to Piso. I hesitantly grabbed masks and decorations that were highly priced yet looked worse than dollar store quality. I figured my money would be better spent on food, candy and alcohol.

That night, we dressed up and invited everyone over. I found myself encouraging the neighborhood children to come over and grab as much candy as they wanted. The concept of just taking was foreign to most of these kids, but after overcoming their shyness, everyone started to get comfortable. And for the adults, we ate, we drank, we sang, we danced. It was an incredible night of gathering with friends and family. I felt truly blessed. Turns out, the collision of my two worlds, my American and Filipino culture worked beautifully together. It really was the best Halloween party I had ever been to.

All Souls Day

For the first time in my life, Halloween ended up being a 3 day celebration. November 1st marked All Saints Day and November 2nd is All Souls Day. This meant continued gathering with loved ones, lots of eating and a lot of partying. I had to remind my husband that Filipinos LOVE to eat and party, and before the festivities began, I sounded odd explaining to him that some of my best childhood memories were spent hanging out in a cemetery.

We spent the next 2 days eating, praying and partying. As we walked to the cemetery where most of my family members are buried, my mom and my aunties grabbed Riley and went ahead to catch the evening mass right in the middle of several gravestones. Attending mass outside with no means to cool yourself was a level of Catholicism that I have yet to reach. It was so hot and humid that I kept buying bottles of cold water from merchants on the side of the road. Even though the sun was setting, the heat and humidity were so intense, I kept wiping puddles of sweat from my neck. My misery made me realize I needed to check on my son and make sure he was drinking water. I found Riley sitting with my mom at the second row of mass with a towel draped between his shirt and his back. He looked miserable and on the verge of dehydration, so at the risk of looking completely disrespectful, I quietly excused myself through the crowd and grabbed Riley in the middle of the homily.

After mass concluded, we walked around to every gravestone of loved ones, left flowers, burned candles and prayed. We also spent time chatting with friends and sharing stories about all those who passed. As we proceeded to leave the cemetery, my aunt built a small fire where each one of us had to jump over before exiting the grounds. Jumping over a fire is said to keep spirits from following you home. Without protest, my son and my husband jumped over before me showing me again, how beautifully intertwined my two cultures are. Before my eyes, both my husband and my child were becoming Filipino.

That evening, the heat must have gotten the best of us. As my mom and her sisters packed more bags with food and loaded up the mahjong, we stumbled into our air conditioned room and passed out. The next morning, we heard about everything we missed and how much fun everyone had. Apparently, everyone partied in the cemetery until 3 AM, leaving some to actually spend the night there. I was bummed that Riley and Clay didn’t experience everything All Souls Day had to offer, but maybe next trip, we’ll plan a little better.

Today I sit here, scrolling through photos of our experience exactly one year ago. I sit here in my quiet living room wondering how I can continue these traditions while being on the other side of the world. For three weeks, my husband and my son experienced what it meant to be Filipino and I find myself struggling to keep that alive while at home.

But maybe for today, I’ll start with baby steps. Maybe we’ll make a list of loved ones that passed, go to mass and say a prayer? Or maybe I’ll cook some Filipino food for dinner and we’ll have a celebration of our own. Eventually, I hope to figure it out, but for now, Happy Halloween.

17 comments on “Merging My Two Cultures: Celebrating Halloween and All Souls Day in the Philippines”

  1. I love this idea of merging the two holidays. Culture is such a wonderful thing. Each celebration and tradition on its own is wonderful, AND they can also be swirled together to make something new.

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  2. Beautiful post sis! I am feeling the same around the holidays, I really miss my family in the Philippines. I try to keep my traditions especially with filipino food. You are very lucky your husband is accepting of filipino traditions.

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  3. What a great way to let your children experience both cultures. It is so wonderful that your husband and son got so involved!

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  4. Very different vibrations to those that we are used to for this Halloween in the Philippines, but no less beautiful … rather …

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  5. That’s so nice that you did a halloween while you were away so your son didn’t miss out. it’s nice that everyone can experience different cultures x

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  6. Sounds like you had the best of both worlds. We were away for Halloween and my daughter was not impressed but she did enjoy al the troll and ghost stories from a new country

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