Celebrating the dead today

FROM A DISTANCE - Carmen N. Pedrosa (The Philippine Star) - November 1, 2020 - 12:00am

Today we celebrate what we have practiced through the years during the Spanish Christian colonization. We flock to the cemeteries to bring flowers and light candles for our dead loved ones. It is also a time for family reunions. (I wonder how these reunions will be done with social distancing imposed since the COVID-19 pandemic.) For my family and me, we will skip the family reunion as I suppose many others will.

My late husband is buried in the north La Loma (difficult to get to) and my parents are in the Loyola Cemetery in the South. We visit at any time of the year when we want to.

Like Christmas, this custom is believed to have pagan origins, which is called Samhain. It is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and beginning of winter or “darker half” of the year. It is held on Nov. 1, but with celebrations beginning on the evening of Oct. 31, as the Celtic day began and ended at sunset. This is about halfway between the autumn equinox and winter solstice.

Neolithic passage tombs in Ireland are aligned with the sunrise at the time of Samhain. It is first mentioned in the earliest Irish literature, from the 9th century, and is associated with many important events in Irish mythology. The early literature says Samhain was marked by great gatherings and feasts, and was when the ancient burial mounds were opened, which were seen as portals to the Otherworld. Some of the literature also associates Samhain with bonfires and sacrifices.

The festival did not begin to be recorded in detail until the early modern era. It was when cattle were brought down from the summer pastures and when livestock were slaughtered. As at Beltaine, special bonfires were lit. These were deemed to have protective and cleansing powers, and there were rituals involving them.

Like Beltaine, Samhain was a liminal or threshold festival, when the boundary between this world and the Otherworld thinned, meaning the Aos Sí (the “spirits” or “fairies’”) could more easily come into our world.

Most scholars see the Aos Sí as remnants of pagan gods. At Samhain, they were appeased with offerings of food and drink, to ensure the people and their livestock survived the winter. The souls of dead kin were also thought to revisit their homes seeking hospitality, and a place was set at the table for them during a Samhain meal. Mumming and guising were part of the festival from at least the early modern era, whereby people went door-to-door in costume reciting verses in exchange for food. The costumes may have been a way of imitating, and disguising oneself from, the Aos Sí. Divination was also a big part of the festival and often involved nuts and apples.

In the 9th century, the Church had shifted the date of All Saints’ Day to Nov. 1, while Nov. 2 later became All Souls’ Day. That’s probably where we Filipinos got the custom, through Spain in Europe.

But over time these days are called undas in Filipino. Over time, it is believed that Samhain and All Saints’/All Souls’ were merged into one together with the American custom of Halloween.

Folklorists have used the name “Samhain” to refer to Gaelic “Halloween” customs up until the 19th century.

Since the later 20th century, Celtic neopagans and Wiccans have observed Samhain, or something based on it, as a religious holiday.

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It is curious why the Chinese arriving in the Philippines today are being demonized when so many Filipinos have Chinese ancestors even before the Western colonizers came here. Moreover, there are 10 million OFWs in other countries (some of them illegally) in search of work or better living standards or to be with relatives. There are 300,000 working in China alone. In London, it spreads because Filipinos from one town entice their townmates to follow. This is the essence of migration, which has been happening for centuries. A modern incentive is the difference in exchange rates.

I suspect it is part of the propaganda of the opposition and oligarch-owned media in fomenting the China-US cold war for personal and vested interests to the detriment of the development of the Philippines.

The Philippines had one of the FEWEST China tourists in ASEAN at 1.3 million in 2019. Thailand had 11 million, Singapore had 3.4 million, Japan had 9.5 million Chinese tourists alone, spending $15 billion. Vietnam had more than 650,000 China tourists in some months, even with ongoing disputes. (Vietnam surpassed the Phl GDP per capita in 2020). China tourists are an economic engine that other countries work hard to court, and even Western nations are giving subsidies to attract Chinese tourists.

We can progress without fomenting anger and sowing fear that some countries want us to do. China tourists spent $277 billion in 2019, vs US tourists at $180 billion; the Chinese assist massively in calamities and COVID recovery; train thousands of our engineers nationwide, mostly unreported.

Overall, Chinese companies hire 80 percent or more Filipinos, but efficiency of coordination and technical needs require some Chinese. US and Japan contracts require their expensive consultants also. We should promote more mentorships for Filipinos to learn from their skills while they are here.

China-assisted projects in the Phl finished ahead of schedule; Angat Dam, Rehabilitation Centers in Agusan and Sarangani finished months ahead of schedule. The Chico River Pump Irrigation project and the two bridges are ongoing even amid the pandemic, providing thousands of jobs for Filipinos.

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