November 1 is a special day for millions of Filipinos. The Catholic Church in the Philippines celebrates the Feast of All Saint’s Day, which is more popularly known as “Undas”.
Undas is a religious and cultural tradition in the Philippines. Millions of Filipino families go to the gravesites of their dearly departed, spending time with family in remembrance and prayer.
The country effectively shuts down, with government offices and businesses closed as many Filipinos travel with family to go to their home provinces to join family.
It has endured over the years, despite the influence of the United States on Philippine culture, testament to the strong Filipino sense of community.
ORIGINS OF ALL SAINTS DAY AND ALL SOULS DAY
The beginnings of All Saints Day can be found with the introduction of the Feast of All Holy Martyrs by Pope Boniface IV in 615 AD.
Pope Boniface IV took the Roman temple of Pantheon and made it into a church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
It wasn’t until a couple of hundred years later that Pope Gregory IV moved the date to November 1. He was thinking that maybe more pilgrims could make the trip to Rome, after the end of harvest season.
All Saints Day finally became a Holy Day of Obligation in 1484, with Pope Sixtus IV gathering all the martyrs who couldn’t be given a special feast day of their own.
In 1048, St. Odilo of Cluny declared November 2 as a Day of All Departed Ones, to encourage the Church to pray for the dead.
In the 14th century, November 2 officially became the official day for remembering the dearly departed.
The Church chose the day after November 1, to collectively remember both the saints in heaven and the souls of the dearly departed.
The Church believes that not everyone who passes away automatically goes to Heaven. First, they must enter Purgatory, where they are purified of sins committed while they were still alive.
Catholics believe that prayers said on All Souls Day help usher along the souls of their loved ones who may still be spending time in Purgatory.
WHAT DOES UNDAS MEAN?
There are many different stories of how the name “Undas” came about.
Some say that it finds its origins from the Spanish word for respect, “honora”.
ORIGINS OF UNDAS IN THE PHILIPPINES
The Cenacle Missionary published an article in 1941 detailing the Filipino custom of remembering the dearly departed.
Filipino families make the trip to their cemeteries where their loved ones are buried, with many making the journey back to their home provinces from Manila.
Those who leave early enough are tasked to clean the tombstones, to prepare for the arrival of the rest of the family.
When enough family members have arrived, the elders of the family lead the prayers, before preparing the food and refreshments for the long night ahead.
MODERN DAY UNDAS IN THE PHILIPPINES
With many cemeteries across the country fully packed, Filipinos have adjusted to avoid the throngs of people and the accompanying traffic.
Many have taken to visiting the gravesites of their dead relatives several days before All Souls Day, bringing flowers and spending time with family to remember their loved ones.
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