Undas- Celebrating All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day, A Philippine Custom and Tradition

All Saints' Day. People offer flowers, candles, and food to their loved ones.
Image credit: Pixabay
Undas/Undras is said to be derived from the Spanish word honra meaning honor but as I delved deeper I found that it is derived from ofrendas meaning offering. It is a Philippine annual tradition of celebrating All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day where we "honor the dearly departed"(honra) or "give an offering to the dead" (ofrendas).

I guess most of you have seen the animated movie "Coco" and already have an idea of the celebration of the Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos) in Mexico. The Filipinos also follow the same tradition of honoring family members who have passed away. In the past, it was celebrated like a fiesta with dancing and merriment, food, and loud singing thus termed "Pista ng Mga Patay" (Fiesta of the Dead) but, due to security reasons (and lack of self-control), most of these activities are now banned.

Christian/ Catholic Origin

All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day is part of a 3-day liturgical celebration called the Triduum of Allhallowtide. Hallow is derived from the Old English word halig which means saint. It begins on All Hallows' Eve (Halloween) October 31, followed by All Saints' Day (All Hallows') November 1, and ends on All Souls' Day November 2. Allhallowtide is a" time to remember the dead, including saints, martyrs, and all faithful departed Christians".

All Saints' Day (All Hallows' or Hallowmas) is a universal Christian holy day, a principal feast day of the Church year and in addition, one of the 4 days recommended for the administration of baptism in the Anglican Church. While All Saints' Day centers on honoring the Church Triumphant in Heaven (saints), it also seeks to especially honor the blessed who have not been canonized and who have no special feast day. For the Roman Catholic Church, All Saints' Day is a holy day of obligation, therefore, attending mass is mandatory.

All Souls' Day is the final day of Allhallowtide and is also known as the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed. All Souls' Day focuses on honoring all faithful Christians who are unknown in the wider fellowship of the Church, especially family members and friends. The intent is for the Church Militant (the living) to assist the Church Suffering in Purgatory (poor souls) which lies in the belief that prayers offered for these "poor souls" shorten their suffering in purgatory. For the Roman Catholic Church, the existence of purgatory is an infallible teaching and is a place "where all souls who have died in the friendship of God but still need further cleansing" go.

Aztec-Mexico Origin

I read a very interesting article about Undas and that it's origins are more Aztec-Mexico in nature rather Roman Catholic. The Philippines was colonized by Spain in the early 1500's and Spain being Roman Catholic passed on its religious traditions to the Philippines. What is widely celebrated in Spain is Todos Los Santos (All Saints' Day) which is another term used by the Filipinos for this celebration. Spain on this day (Todos Los Santos) also celebrates a ritual holiday in remembrance and in honor of their deceased relatives. Unlike Spain, the Aztec celebrate Miccailhuitontili (Feast of the Little Dead Ones) and Miccailhuitl (Feast of the Adult Dead) and they are celebrated consecutively like the Filipino tradition of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day. The Aztecs believed that on these days the dead did not only reunite with their living relatives and loved ones but also with the community in the festival of eating and merriment. The celebration is a huge affair and was not only done in the cemeteries but also on the roads with a Mardi Gras-like appeal. Friars who were stationed in Mexico did not ban this belief rather they fused these beliefs with the religious practice of honoring the dead. To point out, Mexico was colonized by Spain before the Philippines, and the colonizers believing that Filipinos were as similar to the Aztecs believed that incorporating this kind of merriment into a definite religious practice would be accepted by the Filipinos.

The Spanish Friars who were originally stationed in Mexico were moved to Batangas and upon arrival ingrained this practice among the early Filipinos. It is believed that the word "undras" originated from the early Batangenos who used this term as a "shortcut" for ofrendas during the observance of this occasion. As time passed, the Filipinos began using "Undras" instead of "Todos Los Santos".  Hence, on this basis, Undras is believed to come from the word ofrendas meaning offering. Today, Undras has been shortened to Undas and is an accepted term to connote the celebration of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day here in the Philippines.
Image credit: Pixabay

The Celebration of Undas
As other countries prepare for Halloween; costumes, candy and trick-or-treating with the kids, the Philippines prepares for Undas. In the Philippines, the celebration of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day have fused and so we honor and remember all the departed souls or "saints" during these 2 days. During this time, Filipinos visit the remains of their loved ones who have passed on and this is usually the time of family reunions and great celebration.

In preparation of Undas, certain family members are tasked to clean the grave/tomb where their loved one is buried. Dried leaves and garbage is swept away and thrown, debris is cleaned off, and tombstones are repainted. The government also prepares for this time; making sure that families who live in the cemeteries are temporarily relocated, parking is available, designated entry and exit points are established, policemen are assigned to certain areas of the cemeteries (problem with pickpockets), medical assistance booths are ready and on standby, and pathways through the cemeteries or graveyards are cleared to ensure easy access to all.

During Undas, Filipinos, in great numbers, flock the cemeteries and graveyards to visit the dead. Candles are lit, tombs are adorned with beautifully arranged flowers, and an "atang" is offered and placed on the tomb. Atang is food and drink, usually, the favorite food and drink of the loved one or an assortment of rice cakes. After all of this is done, the family now gathers to pray for the soul of the departed, reciting the Holy Rosary and the Litany of the Dead. This is a joyous occasion as family members from all over the Philippines and even from abroad come together to congregate and celebrate. Some even stay overnight in tents or in the mausoleums of their dead family members.

Araw ng mga Patay ( literally translated as Day of the Dead) as many call it in the Filipino language, is a custom and tradition that dates back centuries and is still very much alive. The family ties in the Philippines is very strong. Some children even with children of their own still live with the parents in their ancestral home. Families may live close together usually filling one barangay (village, smallest government unit). When a matriarch/patriarch of the family dies, the wake and the burial is a huge family affair, some distant relatives even fly in to attend the burial. So when All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day comes, it's as big a celebration as Christmas and the cemeteries and graveyards become a venue of a fiesta and the Filipinos spare no expense.

Before, alcohol drinking, singing with a karaoke, loud music, and card playing was allowed in the cemeteries while observing All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day. Unfortunately, because drunk people are difficult to control and the repeated complaints about loud music and singing (Filipinos love to sing), these activities have been prohibited by the government. Although the observance of Undas is more solemn now, Filipinos still find ways to make it a fun family affair.

As Undas draws near, while passing by the public cemetery near my house, I catch a glimpse of the people already cleaning the tombs of their loved ones. Rails are already in place at the entry and exit points. The outside of the cemetery already cleared and cleaned to serve as parking space. Vendors of flowers, candles and rice cakes are already filling their booths in preparation for the influx of people. It is time again to pay our respects to our dearly departed. I smile. It is time for me, as well, to prepare for Undas.

Need this for reference? PIN IT for later!

*credit to sources:
All Saints' Day en.wikipedia.org
All Souls' Day www.timeanddate.com
Allhallowtide en.wikipedia.org
Did Undas Originate from Ancient Aztec Beliefs? by Rigoberto Tiglao (www.manilatimes.net)

(Originally published 10/28/2017)


  1. Great article. There's a link to the Aztecs. So awesome.

  2. Wow! A big Wow! our celebration is linked to the aztecs. So cool.

  3. Thanks for liking...hope you share.

  4. Now i get it. So much fun in our celebrations while in other countries it's solemn. Great to know!

  5. Happy to help! love researching about these things. At least I can use it to open up a discussion.

  6. Nice to read about your country. I hope to visit and experience these things. Thanks for the informations.

  7. Nice to read about this.

  8. A fantastic read, alcohol ruins everything lol

  9. A fantastic read, alcohol ruins everything lol

  10. Thanks for writing this article, it helped me with my Sociology assignment.

  11. I hope the tired mama helped you get a good grade.

  12. Why not make November 2 a regular holiday as well?


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