Filipino Funeral Practices and Superstitions

My maternal grandmother died at around 3pm last July 11, 2011. As soon as we were informed about it at around 4pm, it didn’t come as a surprise to us. We knew that she wouldn’t be able to live very long based on her condition though we did not expect to be that soon…

Here are some videos from the wake of my grandmother:

My family is actually a superstitious bunch. There were too many do’s and don’ts during the wake of my grandmother. But my family is just the same as most Filipino families who really like to believe in superstitions. After all, Filipino traditions are really shrouded with superstitions. That’s already part of our culture. And most of these superstitions, if not all, have something to do with death/funeral, the dead, and even the living dead. So even in these modern times, not much has changed in the way Filipinos carry out traditional funeral practices. Same old ways, same old superstitions–same old, same old.

Wake or Vigil

Filipinos generally hold a wake (lamay) that usually last for five to nine days, and  sometimes longer than that especially if the bereaved family is still waiting for some relatives coming from afar. Wakes are usually held in the house of the deceased especially in the provinces. But in the cities, wakes are usually held in funeral homes. The body of the deceased is placed in a coffin with plenty of lights and flowers around. There is also a guest registry book with a donation (abuloy) box near the coffin wherein visitors or viewers of the deceased can put their financial donation for the bereaved family to help defray funeral and burial costs.

Family, friends, relatives, and acquaintances participate in the vigil and in the nightly prayers. As a Catholic tradition, a novena (a prayer for the dead with some litanies and Latin prayers) is usually done for nine consecutive days. It is also made sure that the vigil goes on 24 hours a day. Family members take turns to watch over the deceased. Visitors usually turn up anytime of the day or night. Food and drinks are always served to the visitors. Many kinds of activities are done outside or near the vigil area such as gambling (commonly card games or mah jong), guitar playing, playing board games, or any other things in order to pass the time and to keep people awake all throughout the night. Gambling is normally allowed and the players need to give some donations (tong) to the donation box.

Funeral

On the day of the funeral, the coffin is loaded into a hearse and will be taken from the place of the vigil to the church in a slow procession. Family, relatives, friends and acquaintances join the procession to the church on foot, though these days some will just ride on a car or any vehicle especially if the church and cemetery are far. Catholic funerals involve the celebration of the so-called Requiem Mass. The bereaved family, friends and relatives would normally wear black or white during the interment. After the Requiem Mass, the body will then be taken again in a slow procession from the church to the cemetery where the remains will be buried or laid at rest.

In some family traditions, the traditional Pasiyam (the nightly prayers) or novena for nine consecutive days are held after the burial. But as for our family, we hold the novena during the wake and end it on the night of the burial. However, when ever the novena may be started or ended is all up entirely to the family. Another thing to note that in a Catholic tradition, that the 40th day after death is essential for we believe that the soul of the dead traverses the heavens and joins God after wandering on earth for 40 days. It is on that day that family, friends, and relatives all gather together again to offer some prayers to the dead and celebrate by sharing the meal together.

Superstitions

There are actually too many superstitious beliefs that our family observes. I actually don’t believe much in these stuff. But I’ve somehow grown accustomed to them. There are many of these beliefs passed on from the elderly: some are basically understandable, while others are just ridiculous and inexplicable. Somehow I think that most of these superstitions are actually contradictory to what we express as faith in God. But I guess it couldn’t be helped. Simply put, belief in superstitions is already part of our culture, and cannot just simply be taken for granted. Here are some superstitious beliefs:

1. The family and relatives are not allowed to take a bath, or comb the hair within the vicinity of where the body lies in state. (I know it is such a twisted belief. I often ask them what is the connection of taking a bath or combing the hair with funeral but nobody has ever given me an answer.)

2. No sweeping. During the days of the wake, nobody is allowed to sweep the floor, or it will bring bad luck. It is ok to pick up pieces of trash if anyone would want to clean. Sweeping can only be allowed after burial.

3. Never wear red during the wake and the funeral.

4. There should be at least one member of the family to stay awake all night during the wake.

5. The candles, or at least one, should stay lit from the first day of wake until the 40th day after death.

6. Avoid droplets of tears to fall on the coffin’s window.

7. As soon as the coffin is out of the door of the house, family members and relatives should pass under the coffin on the way out.

8. When the coffin is already brought outside of the house for funeral, don’t look back.

9. After the funeral, food must all be consumed and there should be no left-overs. It’s either you give it to your visitors or to your neighbors. However, there’s also this belief that one should never bring food that came from the funeral to his house.

10. When sending a rosary with the corpse, cut it off into pieces in order to hinder any more tragedy in the family.

There you go. Those are just some of the many different superstitions that a lot of Filipinos believe. They’re all weird stuff, I know, but these have all been passed from generations to generations. We all have different cultures and beliefs so we all just have to respect them.

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5 thoughts on “Filipino Funeral Practices and Superstitions

  1. Shel R

    I am Filipino and grew up with a lot of superstitions, too. If only they were as adamant about the keeping commandments as they were about observing superstitions. Superstitious beliefs are directly against the Catholic faith, and is a big hindrance for many Filipino Catholic families. We must pray for them to realize how silly all that is. It’s based on lies from demons who want to keep them from having true faith & all the blessings and graces that come from posessing the Catholic faith.

  2. Pingback: Philippine Funeral Superstitions | Texan in the Philippines

  3. kyle

    I am catholic before and became born again afterwards, I just wanna know if these superstitious beliefs have scientific explanation? I have violated some of the beliefs during my grandfather’s wake, but i don’t mean it tho’ i am non catholic and do not usually believe some of those stuffs but i have to follow it otherwise cause most of my relatives were catholic,Do you think these superstitious beliefs are true? NONE of it were ever written in BIBLE.

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