Filipino Traditions for Funerals

Death traditions vary from culture to culture, but one thing remains the same: all cultures have practices and traditions, often in line with their spiritualities for death. For many people and many cultures, there is life after death, and they may play a supporting role in helping their deceased family members and loved one's transition over to the afterlife. Many times, a culture's religious beliefs dictate how to handle the body after someone dies. In Catholic cultures, they believe that the body will rise again with the second coming of Christ, so that’s why burials have been traditional among Catholics. Despite religious beliefs, however, there is a rise of cremation rates among Western cultures, simply due to the rising costs of cremation, burials, and funerals. Even though the costs of cremation are rising too, cremation remains less expensive than a traditional burial and funeral.

filipino hanging coffins

Traditions Vary Among Filipinos

Before the Spanish colonized the Philippines, the early Filipinos had a cultural belief in life after death. According to Wikipedia, “This belief, which stemmed from indigenous ancestral veneration and was strengthened by strong family and community relations within tribes, prompted the Filipinos to create burial customs to honor the dead through prayers and rituals.”.

There are many different cultures in the different regions of the Philippines, and each has evolved its own style and practices to honor and remember the dead. “The most common forms of traditional burials are supine pits, earthenware jars, and log coffins, and have been a topic of interest among Philippine archaeologists since the early 20th century.”.

Burials Over Urns in the Philippines

Religious burials are still common in the Philippines, particularly among Filipino Catholics. The Tagalog people are generally Catholic and hold a wake known as “lamay” or “paglalamay”, which consists of a vigil that can last for up to seven nights. These wakes can last even longer if relatives are traveling a great distance for the ceremony. The Catholic Tagalog prepare the body in the traditional Catholic manner with cleaning and embalming and then placing the body in a casket. The casket is then put on display in either a family member's home or funeral home. (This is very similar to the traditional Western funeral, which is deeply influenced by Catholicism.) The coffin is then often surrounded by “funeral lights, a guest registry book, a contribution box, and flowers.”. The guests include family members, other relatives, friends, and acquaintances.

One unique thing about the Catholic Tagalog funeral is that guests to the funeral, in addition to their condolences, give the bereaved family money to help with the costs of the funeral and burial. There is also a night vigil, during which the grieving family will serve drinks and food to their guests. These are not silent vigils, there is often group singing, lots of conversation, and music. Gambling in the form of card games is common practice to keep the mourners awake through the whole nighttime vigil.

The next day after the nighttime vigil is the funeral. Family members, relatives, and friends will carry the casket to the church unless it is taken by a hearse. The other guests will march after the casket in what is known as a funeral march. There are two main sects of Christianity practiced by the Tagalog in the Philippines, Catholicism, and Protestantism. If the family is Catholic, there will be a celebration of Mass during the service, whereas the Protestants will sing hymns and the minister will recite prayers.

While the traditional color of mourning is black, Chinese Filipinos and the Ilocanos will wear white, but will also wear a small, black pin, known as a mourning pin on the left side of their chest. Another cultural difference to the Filipino services is the prayer custom called pasiyam, or pagsisiyam, which translated means “That which is done for nine days.”. Once the deceased is buried, those mourning the dead will recite the rosary for the dead for the next nine nights. This is based on the traditional, pre-colonial belief that the spirit of the dead goes into the spirit world on the ninth day after dying. After nine days of prayer, there will be another service and a formal meal for the family and friends of the departed. But the ceremony isn’t over yet. They hold a second mass on the fortieth day after death to celebrate the death anniversary “when the soul is believed to end its earthly wandering and ascend to the afterlife.”. This is supposed to be reflective of the time between Christ’s resurrection and ascension. This is a good example of how in every culture, honoring the dead is a universal language.