(Today’s column in Manila Standard Today. The photos only appear here and not on the print and online versions of the paper.)
There were no Halloween parties when I was a kid. There were no days and days of preparation for costumes and dÃ©cor that culminated in the trick or treat event on the night before All Saints’ Day. Instead, people spent time cleaning the tombstones of their deceased family members. With my family, apart from the usual tombstone cleaning, the eve of All Saints’ Day was usually spent cooking because my grandmother’s siblings and their families would congregate at my grandparents’ house and they would all proceed to the cemetery together.
It’s a ritual I never understood — why it makes people feel they are paying their respect to the dead by remembering them for only a few days each year and only with such gestures as cleaning the tombstones, offering flowers, lighting candles and spending the day picnicking, many utilizing the graves as picnic tables. By the time I was in my early teens, it wasn’t even uncommon to find families bringing sound systems and playing loud music while downing bottles of beer right there in the cemetery. A real turnoff, really, and I started shunning All Saints’ Day and the circus that goes with it.
We don’t go to the cemetery anymore. My father and grandmother chose cremation and left specific instructions as to how their ashes were to be scattered. Pouring the ashes and watching them fly in the air was more meaningful and touching than seeing the flickering light of a hundred candles and smelling the dizzying fragrance of dozens of crowns of flowers. If symbolism counts for anything, it was the ultimate symbol of finally being free.
I don’t particularly think about the departed members of the family on All Saints’ Day. But I do remember them most days of the year. My father and grandparents, especially, since it is from them that I developed the love for cooking. Whenever I cook a dish that I learned from them, they’re there with me in the kitchen as though they were mentoring me still. My father, most of all, who was so particular about the quality of meat, how it should be cut and how a good cook never allows clutter to ruin the flow of movement in the kitchen.
So, for the past several years, All Saints’ Day has become nothing more than a holiday for us. No need to get up early, no school for the kids, no work for my husband and, if it fell on a weekday and we felt like going on a long drive, it meant traffic-free highways. And, for the kids, it means Halloween season and the fun activities that go with it.
It’s curious, really, how Filipinos who profess to be devout Catholics have taken to this pagan celebration with gusto. I’m sure it has a lot to do with the business and media push. Halloween, after all, is fast becoming a huge business in the country. But the crass commercialization aside, Halloween is fun — something that can be enjoyed by all irrespective of religious affiliation. And it does bring out the creativity of the Filipinos as evidenced by Halloween costumes and decorations that adorn the front of many houses.
In our neighborhood, Halloween was celebrated early. It must have something to do with the fact that the way Malacañang moves holidays without so much as the bat of an eyelash, no one wanted to prepare for a Halloween party on October 31 not knowing if it would be declared a holiday and everyone would be home to enjoy the activities. The last thing a party organizer wants is to have everything prepared and not have anyone attend. So, last Sunday, there was a potluck party with games galore then the kids went on their trick or treat in their costumes, the younger ones accompanied by parents or yayas.
There was a contest for the best home dÃ©cor but we were not entered since we didn’t have time to put up any decoration. It wasn’t for lack ideas, I tell you, but for lack of time. In fact, I had some really good ideas that I wrote about in my Web log. I’ll reproduce it here:
First choice: Two witches standing beside a grave with a ghoul and vampire bats floating on the background. The witches, personifying “witch hunt” will wear sashes, as follows: Senate and House of Representatives. Investigations in aid of legislation have become nothing more than witch hunts, anyway. The tombstone will say “Supreme Court, RIP.” The ghoul’s name, “Ghouloria”, will be painted on its gauzy white dress.
Second choice: Three witches stirring a cauldron. The witches will wear sashes, as follows: “Oil prices”, “rice shortage” and “food prices”. Inside the cauldron will be small heads floating in a murky liquid, the heads representing the dying Filipino people. Based on the story of Hansel and Gretel, witches do eat humans, and the combination of oil prices, rice shortage and food prices are killing the people.
But my husband and daughters were disgusted with both ideas, their descriptions ranging from “too wild” to “corny.” And since they weren’t able to put forward any alternative concepts on time, we ended up not putting up any decorations at all.
Well, there’s always next year. We’ll be more prepared next time. I do like winning, after all.
Click the link to page 2 to view the photos of the best Halloween home decor.
This is how it looks from the front of the house.
But it’s really all about the details.
A headless man enjoying drinks on his front lawn…
… his head resting on a stump. The home owner is an artist so it’s no wonder that the decor isn’t just a hodgepodge of items one finds in the malls. The whole set up is based on a concept — a scene really rather than a mere collection of spooky items. A well-deserved win.
Speedy says that next year we’ll put up decor that will put Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 blockbuster Dracula to shame. Oh, I hope so. :)