Reliving the spooky times: Halloween Traditions around the Philippines

By Geelyn Avanceña & Kenan Paguirigan

Two years have passed since the Coronavirus hit the Philippines, and brought the pandemic around the whole country, all while putting all Filipinos' health at risk. This meant that all gatherings and other occasions that involved physical interactions instantly came to halt. It was only recently that the country transitioned into a hybrid lifestyle — with most of the human interaction gradually coming back around this time of the year.

Photo Courtesy of PGIN CMO Photo/Alaric A. Yanos/Claudio Sieber Photography

Now that the season of Halloween has slowly come back in the Philippines amidst the pandemic, here are some of the Halloween practices that Filipinos do in their provinces to celebrate Halloween:

Semana ti Ar-aria of Ilocos Norte

The North’s famous Semana ti Ar-aria is one of Ilocos Norte’s pride and joy during the events of the Halloween season. With various activities including a parade of spooky-themed costumes worn by people of all ages, special guest hosts, and food fairs, it’s an event any Ilocano or tourist would not want to miss.

This year’s Semana ti Ar-aria Festival will be extra special because after the halt in such activities due to the pandemic, the province of Ilocos Norte has not tasted its glorifying and spooktacular acts in years.

From witches with brooms to bloody zombies, no one would want to be less scary than the other. So, to give everyone a chance to shine and show their spookiest smiles and most horrifying cackles, Ilocos Norte’s costume parade is something that you do not want to miss. With entire blocks closed off to highlight the darkest and scariest people of the night, the view will be to cry for.

Afraid you may come in physical contact with a few ghosts? No problem! Semana ti Ar-aria conducts a short horror film screening online of what is called the Lilia Cuntapay Short Horror Films which are directed and written by talented individuals that contend for the title of “Best Horror Film.” This film festival has been going on for 11 years and each entry either makes you scared, or unable to sleep at night, but surely, never disappoints.

What is an event without its delicious treats? During the Semana ti Ar-aria, food stalls fill parks while beverages are found all over the place. With Halloween masks up for grabs to your right and an aroma to die for to your left, this festival will not send you home without your stomachs and mouths patched up. From small businesses to large enterprises, the Ar-Aria Food Strip at the heart of Ilocos Norte does not disappoint. Flavors that make your tongue dance, while your eyes pop as vampires and bloody crowds pass by.

Not to forget, trick or treating. This year’s trick-or-treating event will have the trending Tito Noel, also known as the Green Soldier. Kids and children by heart will be going around the Ilocos Norte Capitol Complex asking for tricks or treats to maximize and make the Halloween spirit truly of the essence.

After this week-long event, Ilocanos and tourists alike will have to make sure to set the date for next Halloween. Besides, as Ilocanos say, “Everything’s better with a little fright!”

Pangangaluluwa

Similar to caroling during the Christmas season, Pangangaluluwa occurs annually on October 31. This is when groups of people dressed in white cloth representing 'lost souls' roam around houses to sing. These lost souls often ask for alms and prayers as they recite their verses, as they exchange them for money or rice cakes to bring to the afterlife.

While it is said that this practice would be the Philippines' counterpart of the usual 'trick-or-treating' that has happened as early as the 16th century, this tradition is starting to die down, with only a few provinces in the country such as Cavite and Nueva Ecija still pushing through with the said tradition up until this day.

Aside from the Philippine Halloween traditions that are occurring in some of the provinces in the country, most of the traditional ways of celebrating the annual spooky event are gradually coming back to life as well! Being affected by the pandemic, health protocols and guidelines were implemented during the past two years. Of course, Filipinos have to abide by the community guidelines which made everyone end up staying at home for a long period, and celebrating events like Halloween inside their homes.

Some of these traditions — Namely, atang or food offerings, lighting of the candles, cemetery visits, and setting up of decorations — could be seen everywhere in the country during the spooky season. Filled with gimmicks and halloween parties, Filipinos surely find ways to celebrate the event!

Though, for starters, these that are listed down below consist of the things that everyone usually does during each Halloween practice around the Philippines:

Atang or food offerings

Atang or food offering is an important part of every Filipino family’s culture. When remembering a loved one’s death or maybe when celebrating their birthday, serving food to pay one’s respects is never forgotten. Be it as simple as a lit candle, boiled egg on rice, and a bottle of soda, food offerings for the dead are always put first before anything else begins. Eating before food is offered is unacceptable.

Before, during, and even after ‘All Saints’ Day’ and ‘All Souls’ Day,’ food offerings are set atop household altars, beside a departed loved one’s photo, and also could be on their graves. Even in such a season of spooky and scary activities, remembering family and loved ones are always given importance all over the country, especially since Filipinos take familial bonds and ties as strong beliefs which make us who we are.

Candle lighting in front of the homes

Another Halloween tradition that already goes back to the 19th century is the lighting of candles in front of Filipinos' homes. Lit candles are often seen lined up on the doorsteps of the neighborhood's houses at 6 p.m. on November 1 and 2, as it is believed that by doing this, you could guide the dead spirits toward a bright journey to the afterlife.

Cemetery visits and setting up of decorations

Filipinos spend their holidays differently, some decorate to set a spooky atmosphere, while others set up traditional decorations and both are forms of showing their appreciation for the holidays. Late October is the perfect time to prepare for the approaching visits to the cemetery on the close dates. It is a culture and tradition for people all over the world to visit their departed relatives and loved ones during All Saints’ Day, and because of the Filipinos’ strong familial ties and beliefs, we become no exception.

Families sit around gathered at the cemetery before sundown and spend time with everyone to remember the good and bad times feeling the presence of their departed relatives. Because everyone has a different perspective, it isn’t uncommon to observe different cultures. Some stay at home, some make their way through the thick traffic that leads to their local cemeteries, while others try to get home just to smell the tasty dinner set on the dining table. Even with these differences, Filipinos are Filipinos. These cultures are what make us who we are. To appreciate our family, to pay our respects to the spirits that guide us, and to simply spend time with everyone during such a taxing season.

The Halloween season can be celebrated in any part of the world with your families and loved ones, whether it will be at home, the office, or anywhere that brings out the spookiness of the surroundings. Despite the pandemic that rose throughout the country, Filipinos still find ways on how they would be able to do all the practices mentioned above, while still abiding by the quarantine guidelines and health protocols at this time of everyone's lives.

This year's Halloween may be one of the events that happened after the start of the transition from everyone in quarantine to the comeback of physical and human interaction, yet each of these Halloween practices and traditions around the Philippines will surely bring each family together to pray and give respect for their loved ones, no matter the circumstances!

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