How Is Halloween Celebrated in the Philippines?
Halloween here in the Philippines is not like Halloween in most Western countries. Although it is a major holiday in the Philippines, much like it is in the U.S. and other Western nations, Filipinos celebrate it in a different manner.
The traditions and events associated with Halloween in the Philippines usually begin a week or so before October 31st and don't conclude until after November 2nd. Due to our strong Catholic background, November 1st and 2nd are spent remembering our dead loved ones. On these two days, most of us can be found in the same places—our local cemeteries and memorial parks.
We in the Philippines don’t celebrate all hallows eve by pumpkin-carving or apple-bobbing (although families in some areas have begun to practice trick-or-treating)—we celebrate it with flickering candles, fragrant flowers, thoughtful prayers, and group visits to the cemetery.
A Timeline of Filipino Halloween Customs
As mentioned earlier, the Filipino observance of Halloween does not occur on a single night. Including preparations, Halloween celebrations span a week or more. The following is a general timeline of events you could expect to see in the Philippines around Halloween.
A Week Before October 31st
About a week before Halloween, an intensive cleaning process begins in the cemeteries that hold our loved ones. Graves receive fresh coats of paint, grass is cut, shrubs are trimmed, paths are swept, and our graveyards are beautified. These tasks are completed in preparation for the mass cemetery visits that occur on November 1st and 2nd.
A Few Days Before November 1st
In anticipation of the holiday, people travel from all over the Philippines back to their hometowns (we call these provinces) to visit their dead loved ones. During the days leading up to November 1st, airports, airplanes, ships, and busses are all absolutely packed. The height of this “travel season” is October 31st—On this day, most employees are permitted to take the whole day off to catch the last bus, ship, or plane destined for their hometown.
The Night of October 31st
On Halloween night, most people are busily preparing for the next day. By this time, many people have already purchased the candles, flowers, and picnic supplies that they plan to bring to the cemeteries the following day. While most people are arranging and packing their materials, those who arrived late scramble to purchase last-minute supplies.
November 1st is known as All Saints' Day. On this day, Filipino cemeteries and memorial parks overflow with the relatives of the buried, especially in the afternoon and evening. Traffic around cemeteries becomes fairly tight, and policemen and other law enforcement personnel remain nearby to ensure the mass celebrations remain peaceful and orderly.
November 2nd is known as All Souls' Day. Many people who do not want to brave the cemetery crowds on November 1st opt instead to pay their remembrances on All Souls' Day. While still crowded, cemeteries tend to be less noisy and more somber on the 2nd. For those who live and work in large cities, November 2nd is usually spent traveling back home in order to resume work the following day.
Halloween Celebrations in the Philippines Are Fun
You might think we have a very boring Halloween here in the Philippines. After all, cemeteries, graves, and prayers make for a pretty serious-sounding affair. In reality, spending Halloween in the cemetery is actually a lot of fun. All Saints' Day serves as a miniature reunion for families and friends who only get to see each other once a year.
Tents, shelters, chairs, and tables are set up in front of gravesites to provide a venue for family and other visitors to eat, talk, and celebrate their ancestors. The air comes alive with music as radios are turned on and instruments are played. Graveside karaoke is not at all uncommon. Families and friends sing, dance, and play board games in every corner of our memorial parks.
Best of all, food and drink flow freely—most people bring overflowing baskets of home-cooked delicacies to share. For those who run out of food, drinks, candles, or even flowers, vendors stand by around the cemeteries selling extra supplies.
There you have it! That's Halloween, Filipino style! It's quite different from Halloween in the west, but I assure you it's just as much fun.