Monday, November 03, 2008

Halloween stories

And this is my column today.

The disc jockeys of the FM station we were tuned in to were gleefully greeting their callers “Happy Halloween.” Almost everyone responded by echoing the greeting except one grouse that dared to ask the question on air: “Why do we greet each other Happy Halloween—what is supposed to be happy about it?”

The disc jockeys were thrown off the wall and were momentarily stupefied, while I did the metaphorical equivalent of doing cartwheels inside my car. I wish that there really are more Filipinos who stand up to media personalities, ask sensible questions, and dare to challenge the status quo.

After lots of hemming and hawing, the disc jockeys finally managed to come up with something that they thought was an adequate answer: What’s happy about Halloween are the candies! Of course Halloween is when kids in the United States consume in one night their complete sugar dietary requirement for the rest of their lives, thanks to the trick or treat tradition that we know is bigger than Christmas over there.

But that’s in the States. Actually, I’m not really sure lots of people in this country know about the trick-or-treat tradition during Halloween. I am aware that certain exclusive villages in Metro Manila have been trying to get their community to embrace this practice, but the idea hasn’t really caught fire.

Some malls have even gotten into the act. It was trick-or-treat day at this mall I went to last Thursday. I saw a number of tots dolled up in Halloween costumes going around. The kids really looked adorable—a band of little fairies, pirates, and characters from all the editions of Shake, Rattle and Roll— so we decided to kind of follow them around unobtrusively. I wanted to see if it was something I would encourage my little nephews and nieces to do next year.

I am going to be honest here: The problem as I noted last week was that the candies that the stores were giving out were really not worth all the expense that went into the costumes and certainly not worth the effort spent walking around the whole mall. Okay. I know that there is more to it than just the candies. But oh please, if we are going to get our kids to wear itchy clothes and smear their faces with make up, we should at least make it a rewarding experience for them.

One famous restaurant chain was giving out one piece of candy per child, the kind that retails at less than a peso each. What cheapskates! Worse, some stores were not giving out candies at all. The kids’ loot bags were pitifully near empty even after lots of walking. Nah, I’m not sure that’s something I would like to expose my nieces and nephews to. I guess storeowners would rather make some advertising agencies and media networks a few millions richer by spending more on advertising than in making a few kids happy once a year. So forget about the candies.

I think Halloween in this country is really still largely for the party set who see Halloween as the grandest annual costume ball. There are more than enough of these people who try to live out their colonial fantasy by donning a costume and then going bar hopping to show off just how familiar, how in sync they are with American culture.

Anyway. I wasn’t in a position to check out the Halloween party scene over the weekend as I decided to commune with the spirits of the dead right in my own hometown in Leyte. It’s been quite sometime since I went home for undas and I felt I had to come home this year. Given that Halloween is about scary stories and encounters with spirits, let me tell you why.

Since I was brought up by my grandmother, it was a given that I would be very close to my aunts and uncles who all took me in as their “baby.” I was particularly attached to an aunt, my mother’s youngest sister because she was just in high school when I was born and she really treated me like I was her child. My Tiya Carmen passed away more than a decade ago but I always make it a point to visit her grave every time I am home.

Anyway. I’ve had about four dreams about her since April this year. The dreams were not the scary nightmare kind, though. In my dreams, she was either expressing discomfort or gently chiding me for having forgotten about her. In other words, nagtatampo. But one thing she said in a dream bothered me a bit. In that dream, she had just woken up and she asked me why I allowed anyone to disturb her peace.

So when the opportunity presented itself, I decided to come home and spend All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day in my hometown.

Well, what do you know—it seemed I wasn’t the only one who had the dreams. My younger sister likewise confided that she dreamed of our aunt and that in her dream she was expressing sorrow over something that was inchoate. That’s when we decided to visit the cemetery ahead of everyone else.

Imagine our surprise to find her tomb already spruced up and what’s more, there was a family that was saying prayers before the tomb. I thought they were long lost relatives so when they were done, we approached the tomb, lighted candles and re-arranged the flowers. The family then accosted us, asked who we were, and what we were doing in their family member’s tomb! They said they buried their father inside the tomb March of this year.

We’re still trying to sort out the confusion. The family’s version of events is hopelessly convoluted. First they said they asked permission from a family member, whom they couldn’t name. And then they said they thought the tomb was abandoned. Someone said the whole arrangement was just temporary, they intended to move the bones as soon as possible.

I don’t have scientific explanations about the dreams about my aunt. It can be said that she communicated from the other world to express her discomfort over the fact that her peaceful slumber had been rudely interrupted. It’s scary, when we come to think about it. But what is even scarier is that this practice of stealing tombs and graveyards is true after all.

We’ve all heard about how this practice has become common in highly urbanized centers where there is a shortage of graveyards and where graves and tombs are unceremoniously dug up to accommodate those who recently passed away. How it can happen in a third-class municipality, and what kind of stupid people would unceremoniously claim a tomb inside an enclosure that’s obviously assigned to a family, are questions that beg an answer. If it is any consolation, at least they didn’t throw my aunt’s bones away. They said they bundled these up in a bag and shoved them inside the tomb. So at least her bones are still in the same tomb even if she is sharing it now with someone else.

I’ve been praying that the promises I made at her tomb about making reparations are enough to appease her and that she won’t be visiting my dreams anytime soon. I don’t want a long drawn-out personal Halloween this year.

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