30 October 2007

Halloween and Todos Los Santos

Hello, Filipina Moms! Thanks to Sugarmama's quick response, I am posting my very first post at this site. Enjoy!

My daughter, Mary is so excited about Halloween. She has been counting the days until Wednesday when she gets to dress up in her witch’s costume and wear it to school as well for trick-or-treating out at the Pearl Street Mall and around our neighborhood.

I remember getting excited around this time of the year when I was growing up but for a lot of different reasons.

Neighbor to a Busy Cemetery

I grew up in Rizal Avenue Extension, Grace Park, Caloocan City, Metro Manila, Philippines. Right along the Light Rail Transit (LRT) line, 3 doors up from the gate to the Sanctuario de La Loma— a cemetery. That’s right, the back of our house looked out to tombstones, marble statues of angels, saints, the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ, private tomb mansions and the only trees for miles around in this very crowded, very urban city. (Actually, the ONLY bathroom’s window faced the cemetery! I learned pretty early not to take any nocturnal potty trips…)

What this meant for this time of the year? Fiesta time!

No School!

November 1st is Todos Los Santos— All Saints Day and it is a national legal holiday in the Philippines. No school, no banks, no mail, no work so everybody can go honor their dead. Families tend to their dead family members’ plots, light candles, hold family reunions, say prayers, visit with their “neighbors,” have a picnic. Since it a battle to navigate the roads to the cemetery, then, find a parking spot, then, walk to your plot amidst throngs of people doing the same, people bring in pots and containers of food and drinks along.

Street Food Galore!

But even if you did not bring food, you can count on getting your belly full. Street vendors compete for their share of the sidewalks if not the walkways and streets. Fish balls, Lumpia (egg rolls), Banana-Q and Camote-Q (fried ripe plantain or sweet potato on a stick) were on every corner (fried right before your eyes— watch out for the hot oil!). There would be stalls with some seating where you can get steamed rice and different ulam (viand or main dishes) like chicken and pork adobo (stew with vinegar/soy sauce), sinigang (pork and vegetable in a sour soup), nilaga (beef and vegetables in broth), pinakbet (mixed vegetables— ampalaya (bitter melon), squash, eggplant, string beans) or chicken mami (noodle soup), lugao (rice congee) or pancit palabok (rice noodles in a savory yellow sauce). Then there are the vendors with packaged servings of kakaninputo (steamed, spongy rice cake usually white or yellow in color), kutsinta (also made of rice, usually an orange/brown, slightly sweet, smooth texture), ube (purple yam), sapin-sapin (colorful layered rice cake), etc. Don’t forget the popcorn, peanuts, kornik (crunchy corn kernels) and cotton candy. One would also find mangoes, pineapples, singkamas (jicama), peeled and cut up in bite-size portions at time of purchase. How about fresh coconut juice, straight out of green coconuts, sago at gulaman and coconut or corn or mango smoothies?

A Typical All Saints Day at Grace Park

I would wake up to the sound of silence (I was raised at the second floor within my Dad’s machine shop. Monday to Saturday, the machines start at exactly 7 am). I would rush out to the front patio and look out to our driveway that is getting filled with cars parking for the day. One or two of the workers from the machine shop who chose not to go back to their hometowns, tend to the cars for extra money. Rizal Avenue is getting filled with people walking towards the cemetery with candles, flower arrangements, coolers, portable chairs and food hampers.
Mom would already have lighted some candles— she would have these burning the whole day, from sunrise to sundown to honor her parents whose tombs we do not get to visit. She would then rally us girls to go with her to church (which is inside the cemetery compound) and then visit the tombs of people we knew that were buried in this cemetery. On the way, we would buy flower garlands (fragrant sampaguita), floral arrangements (mostly lilies, gladiolas and calachuchi) and candles to take to the various tombs. We would visit my cousin, Michelle, who died three days after she was born (I would always associate the name “Michelle” with angel, beauty and all that is good because of stories about her), another cousin, Farina who died in New Jersey in a car accident whose death caused my paternal grandfather to have a stroke and be paralyzed and bedridden for the next eight years. Then, off to the tombs of our nanny, Wewe and her husband.

On the way back home, we would then take our time to check out the other items out on sale— native handbags, fans and mats in one stall, assorted toys— balloons, whistling whirly-birds, tops, etc., little live birds (Mom would never let us buy one of these, she said they will be dead in a day). We would stop for fish balls, carefully spearing the balls out of the hot oil on to a wooden skewer, then dipping into the sweet and sour sauce. Then, we would get lumpia to take home to Dad.

Evening would find my mom saying final prayers and blowing out the candles.

When Mary gets older and no longer excited for Halloween, I would take her to the Philippines for a whole different holiday experience.

A slightly different, slightly longer version of this post is at my blog, sweetlifewithmary.com.


Anonymous said...

Very cool. My daughter's birthday is tomorrow. You've planted the seed of planning trip to the Philippines in the future around her birthday so that she can have memories like these too. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Kudos! Very informative article, keep up the good work!
This blog will be one of the many that I visit everyday.

Best of luck,

mamazilla said...

BEAUTIFUL! beautifully detailed post... i could smell the fish balls and hear the live birds... mary is lucky to have you as a guide to this holiday experience. :)