The first of November isn’t just a typical day for us Filipinos. We look forward to this day because it is All Saints’ Day or, in the Filipino language, Undas. Even though the first of November is for remembering the saints, we focus more on our dead family members during this day. We also regard this as a big day, for it usually is the only day where all of our family members get together, prepare sumptuous meals, and remember our loved ones who have passed away. Let me tell you more about how we remember the dead during All Saints Day. 


Family Reunion

This celebration indeed unites and strengthens the foundation of every Filipino family. Bus and ferry terminals are constantly flooded with people before November 1 because many Filipinos living in the city are bound to their respective provinces to reunite with their family members and observe All Saints’ Day. We come together on this occasion because it is an opportunity for our families to reunite and reminisce memories with our departed relatives. We also take the opportunity to do such things because our parents don’t have work and we students don’t have classes during this day—a day just with family. This day also seems to be a joyous festivity instead of a solemn one. Personally, since I have a big family when our parents catch up with our relatives about their life, work, and children, they talk and laugh big time. Also, there will never be a time that they will not bring out karaoke and speakers. It needs to be there because my aunts, uncles, and cousins love to sing and dance. And, yes, it’s in the cemetery. Our family celebrates and does not mourn during this day because we believe that our departed loved ones are enjoying the kingdom above, and we want them to feel that we are happy with where they are.


Food Galore

When Filipino families meet, forget everything; just don’t forget the food. Food is a big part of this celebration. Each family prepares food that they will take to the cemetery; besides that, it is for the whole family to munch on, it is also an offering to our deceased family members. Our lola (grandmother), lolo (grandfather), tita (aunt), tito (uncle) prepare various kinds of food—from the main course to dessert. However, a particular type of food became a staple during Undas; it’s become somewhat a tradition for every Filipino to serve them in observance of the season. 


  1. Puto 
  • It is a rice cake delicacy that is often partnered with dinuguan (pork blood stew). But during this celebration it is also eaten on its own, making it a snack for the family.


  1. Sapin-sapin
  • It is a colorful sticky rice cake with a sweet taste and smooth texture. It is fun to chew and can fill a hungry stomach. 


  1. Biko
  • It is a sweet rice cake made of coconut milk, sugar, ginger, and glutinous rice. It is often served in a round, shallow bamboo tray lined with banana leaves known as a bilao


Of those listed above, there is one in common to them all. These foods are made of glutinous rice. It is believed that having “sticky food” symbolizes the closeness and bond of our family, including the deceased members. With that, the stickiness of the food is assumed to bring everyone closer and stick together—not just during All Saints’ Day or All Souls Day.


Recollection of the Dead

We gather in the cemetery to remember our deceased family members on this day. We pray for their souls so that they may reach heaven. Filipino Catholics believe that souls dwell in purgatory if we, their relatives, won’t pray for their salvation. As prayer and observance of the season, we light candles in front of their graves, spend a moment to pray, and offer flowers and food to the dead. Usually, we stay in the cemetery for the whole day to bond with our living and deceased family. This day is just a fun day because our family gathers and just enjoys the company of everyone. 


Since there is a pandemic, we couldn’t do these things for two years already. Cemeteries were all closed every November 1 to 2 to avoid people from mass gatherings. We were barred from doing what we used to make ourselves safe from the coronavirus. Yet, this did not stop us from observing the festivity. We prayed for their souls in our houses. We offered candles, flowers, and prayers on our altar with their photos. And, we connected with our far relatives virtually. However, I believe that when things go back to normal, terminals will be busy again, jaws will be exhausted from chewing sticky rice cakes again, and candles, flowers, and food will be offered again.


Patrick Sursano

About Patrick Sursano