Araw ng mga Patay

Yesterday, November 1, was Araw ng mga Patay, a major holiday in the Philippines.  Literally translated, Araw ng mga Patay means “Day of the dead.”  Additionally, November 1st is All Saints Day in the Catholic Church, which is all related to Araw ng mga Patay, or Day of the dead.  It is the day when the family members who have passed before us are remembered and honored.  But, Araw ng mga Patay is actually only half of the holiday.  The second day, November 2, is also a holiday.  November 2 is All Souls Day.

Another name for the two days combined celebration is called “Undas.”  In previous years, although I have heard of Undas, I have never heard it widely used, at least in the area where I live.  This year, though, the name “Undas” is widely used.  I am not certain why, or for what reason the name of the celebration seems to have shifted more to being called Undas this year than it has in the past, but I have certainly noticed the shift.  Perhaps others will comment that they have (or have not) noticed such a shift this year as well.

Araw ng mga Patay
Araw ng mga Patay

As a westerner, the Undas season is the hardest thing for me to really understand when it comes to Philippine holidays.  While in many ways, Undas is very solemn, in some ways it is also festive!  You are supposed to remember your loved ones who have passed, and spend time at the Cemetery to show your love and honor of those who have died, yet at the Cemetery it is often a party type atmosphere!  People get drunk, dance and party wildly at the graveside!  People bring plenty of food and spirits to enjoy a lively Undas!  I find it very strange, and hard to understand.

For me, I am a Christian, but I believe that we can remember our lost loved ones any time that we choose to, just by thinking of them, or maybe saying a short prayer.  But, here, they go way beyond that during Araw ng mga Patay.  As I said earlier, food and spirits are brought to the cemetery.  And, do you know, a plate of food is even dished up for the dead person, and served at their grave!

Early this morning (Nov. 2), Feyma rode the bus to GenSan to be with her family for the All Soul’s Day part of the celebration.  Feyma and her family (at least the part of the family that I know) have never been into the whole party scene at the graveside.  But, they will just be paying their respects to Papa, Mama and Feyma’s siblings who have already passed.  Feyma will be gone just one day, and return tomorrow.  I planned to attend the event myself, but I still have some lingering effects from Dengue that cause me to get pretty worn out if I over-exert myself, so both Feyma and I decided it would be best for me to remain home this year.  Mostly, Feyma wanted to be there, though, because this is the first year since Mama passed, and she feels it is important to show her respects at this time.  I support her in that too.

Even after living here for a decade, though, I feel that I cannot fully understand Undas, or even grip a small portion of what it is all about.  It seems so different to me, and unlike anything that I experienced in the West.  November 1 and 2, also, are probably either the second or third biggest holidays of the year in the Philippines.  Easter (Holy Week) and Christmas being in the top three as well.  To be honest, among those three holidays, it would be hard for me to classify which of them is most important to Filipinos.  Holy Week and Undas are solemn (with spurts of festivity, as I’ve explained), while Christmas is more cheerful, to say the least.

Early November is certainly an interesting time in the Philippines.

Post Author: MindanaoBob (1353 Posts)

Bob Martin is the Publisher & Editor in Chief of the Live in the Philippines Web Magazine. Bob is an Internet Entrepreneur who is based in Davao. Bob is an American who has lived permanently in Mindanao since May 2000. Here in Mindanao, Bob has resided in General Santos City, and now in Davao City. Bob is the owner of this website and many others.

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  1. John Miele says

    Bob; yikes… Sounds best to stay home! Strange holiday to Westerners… Similar to the Mexican celebrations. Rebecca was really nostalgic this weekend. We also went to Bulala, her ancestral town, that hasn’t changed in 100 years. She was quite weepy for her grandparents while there, but truly a party atmosphere at the cemetery, especially since Juanito was “introduced” to his ancestors for the first time. Add in 200 or so alive relatives at the cemmetery, and the “painting party” getting the graves cleared….

  2. Edward Gary Wigle says

    Hi Bob – Sorry to hear that you are still feeling sick. I pray that you are feeling better soon. The Dengue doesn't sound like anything I want to catch.

  3. Paul says

    Hi Bob – Been visiting & celebrating with the relatives, both living and "beyond," at our local cemetary. A day or two before was time for the annual clean-up, and small trash piles burned everywhere. Add a fresh coat of paint here and there, and the cemetary looks fresh and clean. Yesterday and last night/this morning were for the real visiting and celebrating.

    Our cousin the Mayor had two lechon baboys for the extended family and spent the night at the cemetary with all those so inclined (as is the custom).

    Celebrating All Saints' Day must include living saints (us) as well as those who have passed and those who have been canonized. After all, we are all part of the "Communion of Saints."

    Seems that westerners get stuck on the "mourning" part of death and don't get on to celebrating the departeds' lives. I've cried when close relatives passed on, but after grieving, I've moved on to celebrating and re-enjoying the times spent with them. Nothing provides a healthier laugh than the retelling of some antic shared with the deceased. One can't bellow that laugh if he/she is stuck in tear-drop-ville.

    Sunshine + rain = All Souls' Day Rainbow. Love this life in the province! Rainbow wishes for quicker recovery from dengue.

  4. says

    Hi Paul – Good morning to the northern brethren here on LiP. We hope that it is dry and sunny today for you! Hey, my friend… anything that includes Lechon Baboy is OK in my book! 😉

  5. says

    The area where I'm from they call it Pista ng Patay (fiestang patay). It's one of the weird custom/cultural event in the Philippines. I've only ever been to my parents graveside once. I just don't get the part where you hang-out at the cemetery, almost like having a party with food and drinks. Although, I don't mind the food part of the event as long as it's NOT at the cemetery!

  6. John Miele says

    Bob: we went up Friday night and the roads are just like Holy Week… Half of Manila clearing out. This year, because of the small typhoon, it was easier. I saw the start of the celebrations yesterday, with Becky making bibingka for her father, since it was his favorite when he was alive. Vendors set up in the cemetery and the bands come later in the day for the party (30 pesos per song for your ancestors). Driving to Tuguegarao for my flight was long… The PNP had roadblocks at each cemetery and all of Tuguegarao was turned into 1way streets because of everyone out and about. Wish I could have been there today too, but stuck in Jakarta.

  7. says

    Hi Miss August – I had not heard the name "Pista ng Patay" before, although it certainly fits the occasion! Yeah, I am like you, I don't quite understand this one. I understand honoring the dead, remembering them, etc., but this is a little beyond what I would consider normal for my culture! 😉

  8. says

    Hi John – It certainly is an interesting event, don't you think? Hey, that driving sounds like it's no fun, but consider my situation… I live in a house with a major cemetery within a half kilometer on either side of me! It can be hell even getting in and out of the neighborhood at times like this! This year, though, did seem a little lighter in traffic compared to past years, though.

  9. brian says

    Very different than the west, we seem to plant em and move on, its nice that in the RP they are remembered in a festive way, a way I would much prefer to be remembered….surrounded by living loved ones who slap a few pork chops on the head stone and douce it with a few rum & cokes…aaaahhhh could taste it in paradise!!!

  10. says

    Hi John – I have never seen Feyma get too emotional about the dead (except, of course, just after the death of a loved one). I mean, people who have long passed. She has never seemed to be much into the whole All Saints or All Souls thing. I don't know, maybe she has held that back because she knows that it is not so much my cup of tea. She does seem a bit more into it this year, but not as much as most Filipinos, though.

  11. Carl says

    i find it very nice and i see it in the way that for the one night and day the family takes the departed one back to theyr fold ,introduces him to new members of the clan and enjoys the normality of the family life as it was before they past on . i am european ,but i dont find it strange at all instead i think its a very nice way to remind the family of the members gone and let us all feel the mortality of ourselves . i hope they party around my grave once im gone ,it would certainly make me very happy .better to be remembered with song and dance than planted and fergotten .

  12. queeniebee says

    Hi Bob, In our area of Cebu it's called Adlaw sa Minatay. I believe that Araw ng mga Patay as well as "Undas" is Tagalog. In Cebuano, the name Kalag-Kalag describes this bringing of food to the graveside and honoring the dead at this time. Another of the many instances that Tagalog is mixed with Bisaya in Mindanao.

  13. says

    Hi, Bob, don't take this as Bible truth, but the New Orleans jazz funeral procession may have given some of the impetus for the Pinoy penchant for merrymaking at the cemetery to honor their dead. See:

    Filipino funeral processions, particularly in the barrios, are done pretty much in the same way, with barrio folks dancing to the music along the way to the Church and to the cemetery. They have bands front and back of the procession playing John Souza marches and other lively melodies, but never somber music.

    "Filipinos are great imitators. When a new style of jazz was made popular by bands accompanying funeral processions in New Orleans in the early 1900s, it did not escape the attention of Filipino barrio musicians. Ragtime was an unknown quantity in the Philippines in those days and the rendition by a barrio band of When the Saints Come Marching In played at the liveliest up tempo conceivable to them, immediately following soft, somber music, carries with it the tradition of a New Orleans funeral procession at its best." – Excerpted from

  14. Danny says

    Kamusta ka Bob,

    I can understand the event, is a way of remembrance for them..and I think it is great. But the drinking and carrying on and "partying", that I don't understand, and think it a little disrespectful to your loved ones who have passed away. That part of it seems to be just an excuse to get drunk..of course I am only guessing and hearing what Rose has told me before.

    Salamat kaayo, ug amping,
    Danny :)

  15. says

    Hi Bob,

    Maybe it is your better understanding of the language(s) now that you think you are hearing the word "Undas" more often. That would explain it too.

    Over here in Austria, both days are celebrated as well, as this is a predominately Catholic country. The city even supplies buses to take people to the cemeteries. But, no parties!

  16. Pete says

    Growing up in Hot Springs, Ark I went to catholic elementary school in the 60's, early 70's. The nuns and fathers assuredly made known to us the importance of these days. True I don't think it was festive in any way, but it was most certainly a holy day of obligation as I recollect.

    I think we tend not to hear about it as much these days because a lot of society as a whole has stopped attending church functions. That and dwindling numbers of clergy and sisters don't help.

    I will admit that unfortunately the 6 years of nearly daily mass burned me out on church–then when i got older I married a non-catholic woman.

    Someday I wouldn't mind getting back to the church. Maybe if everything else can work out too. After all my half-sister was a nun—just passed a few years ago.

    I'm glad this topic came up–it gives me pause to stop a moment and recollect her–as well as the days of my youth.

    I know my hon over there that is going back to Doha (OFW) in a few days texted me a few days ago that she was on the way to the cemetary for the holiday.

  17. says

    Interesting in several aspects. First, I had asked Bob earlier if the Undas thing was becoming common there in the southland, sounds as if it is about the same as here in my area … it's now in very common use but many people I ask about the name say, "beats me, the news papers and the malls just started using it. (It doesn't seem to be in most Pilipino dictionaries).

    And for John's comment on the similarity to the Mexican holiday … it is the same holiday. It is celebrated over the two important Catholic Church "days" but the Day of the Dead comes from Mexico where the Spaniards tried to actively stamp it out as a pagan festival … they didn't have much luck LoL. It's an important holiday in US/Mexican border states as well.

    It is not unlike a few other traditions/words/etc that are thought to be Spanish in origin but are really Mexican. Most history books talk about 333 (give or take) years Spanish rule of what is now the Philippines, but this is not even close. For 250 years — from 1565 to 1815 — Las Islas Filipinas were ruled by the Viceroy of Nueva Espana (Mexico) for the Spanish Crown. Sort of a second-tier colony. Legaspi, the first "Spanish" colonizer of Cebu and later Manila was indeed Spanish by birth but he was here in the name of the Viceroy of Nueva Espana.

    Interestingly, two of the most important holidays in Japan (not much Catholic or Spanish influence there ;-)) are very similar to the Day of the Dead … becuase every spring and fall the country grinds to a halt as people pilgrimage to the burial spots of their ancestors armed with ceremonial brooms and other sacred cleaning supplies.

    A very culturally rich time of year, that is for sure.

  18. says

    Good morning Bob,

    The way the filipinos celebrate all saints day is only one of many, many, similarities between the Filipinos and Mexican way of live. All of them came with the filipinos who went to Mexico during 3 centuries with the Spanish galeon, and the Mexican who came to filipinas the same way.

    The same dificulties to understand by some people , the way filipinos and Mexican celebrete this dates, they have other poeple to understand the way other cultures celebrete this dates (hallowen).

    I would preffer to sing a song at my fathers greve ,with a guitar, that to dressed my self as a wicth , to conmemorete the date.

    Have a nice day.

  19. says

    Hi Dave – I don't recall our conversation about "Undas" – was that this year? Maybe I'm spacing it out. I sure don't remember ever hearing the word in previous years, though.

    Indeed, this time of year, for the next two months or so, is a very rich, culturally, in the Philippines.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  20. says

    Hello Antonio – Because my country of origin (among others) and the Philippines celebrate this period in different ways, I don't consider either to be right or wrong… they are just different. I can assure you, though, in my entire life, I have never dressed myself as a witch.

  21. brian says

    thanks Bob..When I stop at the red lights I kinda get funny looks from the other drivers, school bus's can get brutal. 😛

  22. says

    Hi Bob – Good article and I am of the opinion that its crazy time again in the Philippines and completely alien to my upbringing.
    But none the less those who practice are best left alone to enjoy while I stay at home in safety in case I'm the one being visited next year.
    Best wishes.

  23. Jack says

    Hi Bob,

    Juramie and her family went to visit her lola grave at the cemetary. I was moved when Juramie asked me for the name of my mom so she could pray for her at Mass.

    I was invited to some filipino mga higala on Sunday for panihapon and a prayer meeting. The traditions were carried out at the prayer meeting. I was moved when an Ate was praying for the vicims of the Philippine Typhoons, the Indosesian Earthquake and the Somali tsunami.

  24. queeniebee says

    Hi Roy and Bob, Roy, what a lovely of explaining this special time. Also I think that life and death for Filipinos' is so naturally intertwined, and the idea of spending time at the graves of your loved ones is an easy and natural thing, and not something to feel fearful or uneasy about. Even for myself–I get comfort in the thought of someday (in the far future I hope!} to be buried with my husband's family, and if I might, be honored and remembered in spirit in such a sweet way… My father-in-law passed away not so long ago, but I'm sure that this past weekend he in particular enjoyed communing with all his loved ones, especially the drunk ones!

    Bob, I'm doing good, but miss your daily posts and thought provoking topics. I know that you have a lot of other work, and must also share the site with your fellow writers. I don't always contribute as I can't always think of much to say. Hope you feel stronger every day.

  25. Paul Thompson says

    Hi Bob;
    Every country where the Spanish, Portuguese or Italian once held power, they’ll celebrate “All Saints Day” in a like fashion. Puerto Rico this was also a big day for family, food, and visiting passed love ones. (A little Don”Q” rum also)
    My family being of Irish descent and the Irish love wakes and funerals, so going to a grave yard is a big treat. The major difference between an Irish Wedding, and an Irish Wake: Is one less drunk!
    I watched my Granddaughter laugh and smile, after returning to my house Sunday, when all the “Visiting” was over, and the family sat telling stories about the ones who had passed. So the kids get to hear a little history about Family they’ve never met, but now they know that person, was an important part of their life.

  26. says

    Hi Roy – Thanks for such a detailed accounting on this, very interesting. I found it interesting this year, suddenly it seemd to me that it was very "vogue" to use the name "Undas" and it is all I heard.

  27. says

    Hi queenie – For me, I would find it hard to get to the point where I would be so very comfortable spending much time at the graveside. It's a place that I don't enjoy going. I suppose it might be a cultural thing, or at minimum the way we were all raised at childhood that would give us such feelings.

  28. says

    Hi Paul – I am also Irish (mostly), but my family never got into the whole wake thing at all… I suppose that part of the culture was shed from the family generations ago.

  29. says

    As I was saying, Bob, speaking of New Orleans, it would be interesting to watch the showdown between Drew Brees of New Orleans and Brett Favre of Minnesota. I watched Brett Favre and the Minnesota defense demolished Green Bay yesterday. How weird it was to see Brett Favre in other but a Packers uniform.

  30. says

    Hi John – To be honest… NFL football is no longer shown on TV here in the Philippines, so I have no idea who Drew Brees is, never heard of him. I know Brett Favre, because he is a long time player, but I didn't know he is playing with Minnesota… I actually thought he was retired! It's hard to keep up with NFL since I can't watch games here.

  31. Paul Thompson says

    Hi Bob;
    I was attempting answer (or try to) the question, as to why some cultures celebrate the departed, vice mourning over them. All of my grandparents came over from Ireland in the early 1900’s so I’m 2nd generation American. I could have been 1st generation, if the ship was 3 days late arriving). My point is, my children, will hear the stories of their ancestors (sometimes embellished), and will better understand their culture. I am blessed with knowledge of my family and those who passed years before I was born, and I’ll pass this to my children and grandchildren, with the hope they’ll better understand who they are.

  32. jonathan says

    Hi Bob!

    In Manila, Undas used to be called “Araw ng mga Patay”. Back in the 90’s, I only heard the word undas when I was with my former wife’s family in Bulacan. But now, it’s all over, practically due to the two-giant television networks continues usage of that term. Believe me you Bob, the celebration in Manila is bordering to crazy to downright silly. It’s like a party out there! But the government is trying to subdue it by disallowing “mourners” to bring stereos with loud speaker systems, alcohol and steel-pointed materials (such as knives) but it’s barely being followed. Navigating thru roads during this season would be detrimental to your health (not that it has not been always, lol, esp. in Manila).

  33. says

    Hi queenie – Long time no see! I was just thinking about you a few days ago, I hope you are doing well.

    No doubt that in Mindanao, and many other parts of the Philippines as well, Tagalog has crept into the local languages. I find it sad, but there is not much that can be done.

  34. roy says

    Hello Queeniebee and Bob,
    Queeniebee, yes "undas" is used by tagalogs esp those in Metro manila. However, when I go to my mother's town in Batangas, "undas" becomes "undRas". I remember the National Hero Jose Rizal used the "undRas".
    True, Bob, the usage of "undas" should be uncommon in Mindanao. Even while I was growing up in Manila, the proper term used was Araw ng mga Patay or Pista ng mga Patay (Day of the Dead). Undas has a colloquial feel to it and I suspect that TV networks used it to resonate better with the masses. I use the word "undRas" vs "unDAS" not because I am more Batangueńo than Manileńo but just because I don't remember really hearing "unDAS" except only in TV and in later years.

    Now, I read somewhere that the word "UNDRAS" or undas must have been derived from "HONRAR" the spanish word for to show respect.

    The Filipinos' Araw ng mga Patay and the Mexican's Dia de los Muertos are brothers and sisters in every respect in this unique ritual. But the Filipinos owe it to the Mexicans. No other country in central to south america celebrates the day of the dead the way mexicans do. And I think Filipinos comes close to them. Just like the mexicans, Filipinos too have "ofrendas" or "atangs" especially the region where Becky, John Miele's wife comes from.

    Filipinos prepare food during this time for a good reason. Many relatives travel from far and they have to be nourished for their efforts. We eat what we have prepared in the cemetery because ..why not? LOL We also think of offering our dearly departed their favorites.

    The Mexicans prepare breads like "pan de muertos"/ "galletas de calaverias"(bread for the dead) ;they are breads or cookies that are shaped like skull. But aside from their otherwise irreverent take on what is macabre to most, the Mexicans for me hold a very beautiful ritual of remembering the dead. To them, one is TRULY dead when that one is forgotten, no longer talked about, or even remembered even for just a day–like Dia de los Muertos.

  35. says

    Hi John – I used to live near NOLA, so I am very familiar with the funerals down there. Hmm… I don't know that I would compare that to what I see here. I suppose that there is some similarity in the spirit of the thing, though.

  36. says

    Hey brian – I was looking at a smaller version of your Gravatar before… just came and looked at the larger sized one on the site that is viewable to the public (I usually only comment in the Admin area). Didn't notice that pacifier in your mouth! You are indeed passing your bad habits to the boy! Ha ha…. You are a bad boy, brian! I kind of like it! 😉

  37. says

    Hi Danny – Yeah, that's the part that I have a hard time understanding myself. I suppose I will never understand it. But, as a few others have said in the comments, they would rather be remembered in a way that makes people happy and gives them fun, than in a way of sorrow. Different strokes for different folks!

  38. says

    Hi Pete – I was also raised Catholic, although I mostly attended public schools – never attended any Catholic schools. So, yes, I also have such memories as well. In my case, I found that the Catholic faith did not fulfill what I was looking for spiritually, and I left the Church for other paths in life. That said, I have nothing against Catholicism, and for those who find that Catholicism works for them, more power. I hope that if you do decide to return to the Church, you find that it fits your needs. Good luck.

  39. Jack says

    Oo. Panihapon – lami gyud na. The company of friends is very nice and Lyn gave me leftovers for dinner tonight. One of the members of the group is from Davao so I can practice the bisayan that I am learning. The latest word that I keep getting corrected on by both Che and Juramie is "lapis". Ha. I have 24 hours to get it right. Luckily I am on Skype so Maestra Bebe can't pinch my ilong when I get the wrong answer (yaga yaga man ka oi).

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