Chinese on All Souls' Day


Judging by my name, one can tell that I am of Chinese descent but it took me fifteen years to realize that looks-wise, I am one. Well, quarter of it actually. I spent my last high school summer working in our bakery as a sales lady when some of our customers would ask me if I were Chinese. I would say yes, then turn to our employees, and ask them if I really did have those chinita eyes. They too, said yes. Then I was convinced I am evidently Chinese-blooded.

Although we had the blood of the chinky-eyed race, we were not so traditional about it. I didn't study in Chinese schools and couldn't even speak the language well. We do few common traditions though like the giving of red packets with money inside as gifts for new years, birthdays and weddings; having misua on birthdays to signify long life, feng shui for luck, and chopsticks--I'm not even good at using them despite having plenty of them from my late grandparents. These traditions are getting very common that even people without Chinese descent practice them. However, there is this day that we come to once a year that I feel so Chinese about: All Souls Day.

Filipino-Chinese people have a very interesting way of commemorating the dead. Our family and relatives visit our late grandparents in the old Chinese cemetery where they were laid to rest. Aside from candles designed with gold dragons and inscriptions, we bring incense, which are thin sticks, usually red in color, burned and placed in an urn. We also bring joss paper (Chinese dead money) which are burned as offerings to ensure that spirits of the deceased have lots of good things in the afterlife; and of course, food such as hopia, tikoy, pansit, and fruits, which are laid on the tomb as a sign that the souls share in the feast. And it is a common practice of putting the pictures of our late relatives on the altar or tomb as a way of remembering their faces.

We'd light the incense in two's or three's, bow three times as a sign of respect, then plant them on the urn in front of the tomb. While we pass time talking, we fold the joss paper into rolls like lumpia, or we just simply fold them. These are sheets of papers cut into squares decorated with seals or engravings on them. We then gather and burn them in a huge tin can. This is to provide the deceased with sufficient income in the afterlife. While the grown-ups spend the rest of time talking, the children wait for the candles to melt so they can have the melted wax weighed in exchange for money. Watching the gold dragons melt with the candles makes them want to save it for its beauty.

One thing I look forward during this day is the extended family whose dead relatives' tombs are next to ours. They, too, practice the rituals we do. The head of the group is an old woman probably in her 70's who speaks Chinese in a very loud voice that I would just listen to what she's saying hoping that I could understand. But I don't, because I'm not good at it and I somehow hope I am, truth be told. That's why when people ask me if I’m a practicing Chinese, I say I only am by name, looks, and on All Souls’ Day—that day of the year I feel so much like one.

*image by beatus-vir on DA

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