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Crash Course: Funeral practices in the Philippines

Edmar Borromeo - 1st pick

Death. It isn’t the easiest thing to get over. The loss of a loved one can have significant impacts on our lives. It is during instances such as these that emotions run high, with mixes of grief, sorrow, anger and rage filling the hearts of those left behind. Everyone has their own way of dealing with the pain, whether it is to follow the norms of a certain culture, a personal process or a combination of any of these.

Paying or giving respect to the dead is a universal concept that has taken up a plethora of forms across time and space. As with the grieving process, it can be personal, cultural or religious. Below are a few ways in which different cultures and faiths pay respects to their dearly departed.


The set-up

The Philippines, home to a plethora of ethnic groups, many of whom have their own practices when a loved one is lost. However, the more well known practices are the ones from the Christians.

Imagine the set-up: When someone has passed on, that person’s body is placed inside a kabaong, or casket, clad in traditional Filipino formalwear and clutching a certain denomination in their hand (usually about P100). The body is then displayed in a person’s home or in a funeral parlor, depending on the preference of the bereaved, however, most of those living in the province or in suburban areas usually prefer that the internment be held at their home unlike those who live in big cities, who might prefer to hold the wake at a funeral parlor.

In the provincial setting, there are usually a number of tables and chairs sprawled throughout the yard or garage, with some funerals having these at the roads, effectively closing the road. This gives visitors a place to sit, talk and eat food. What can also be seen is a table specifically for gambling, where the local tambay go to play. This is, of course, different for when a wake is held at a funeral parlor.


The wake

The wake, also known as lamay or burol is the period wherein friends, family mourn the death of the deceased. This period usually lasts 5-7 days.

It is during this time that Mass cards are given to the family. These Mass cards are these diploma-looking objects that are clamped on a stand, given by those who offer the Mass for the departed soul.

Floral arrangements laced with ribbons lettered with condolences are given by friends, family and grievers of all sorts while money, called ambag, is also given to the family to help cover the funeral costs.

Now, it is time to go to the food. Oh, the food! Nourishment is always provided to guests who visit a wake. These come in the form of buffets, assorted chips and pastries, candies and juice. Coffee is served as well. Be warned, however, that taking food home from a wake is prohibited lest the spirit of the deceased follows thee home.

The night before the body of the deceased is laid to the final resting place or Huling Hantungan, and the family usually stays up all night as it is the last night they will get to be with their beloved dead.

The funeral

Here comes the dreaded day, the day wherein the body will be six feet underground or surrounded by cement, the day everyone has to finally say goodbye.

Funeral practices in the Philippines usually start with people viewing the body for the last time followed by some prayers. Next, the coffin is then carried out by pallbearers, usually composed of male family members, friends or men from the funeral service. These men then carry the casket to a hearse, a vehicle made especially for this kind of occasion.  Here’s a tip, if one does not wish for the spirit of the deceased to remain in the house, then the coffin should exit the house feet first.

As soon as the hearse starts moving and the funeral or sad pop music starts to play, the procession begins. A sea of black and white can be seen whenever there is a funeral. These people walk behind the hearse towards the church (if Catholic) wherein the casket will once again be opened. The Holy Mass begins.

At the end of the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, a necrological service ensues. This is where selected members of the family and friends toast the life of a person, a very emotional part of the ceremony. Those who attended are then invited to look at the body one more time and sprinkle Holy Water and put flowers on the casket. The Mass is ended, the “Necro” is complete, the casket is shut and carried out of the church for the final leg. The procession continues.

Mourners do not walk all the way to the cemetery at this leg. Jeeps, buses and private vehicles bring mourners to the cemetery, though still tailing the hearse, a mechanized procession. When the parade nears the cemetery, many may opt to go on foot and walk to the site.

When they get to the “Huling Hantungan” or final resting place, the casket is carried to a stand and is opened for a final time. Prayers are said; butterflies are released from white envelopes in poetic fashion. Family and close friends of the deceased look, touch, embrace or kiss the body for a final time. The casket is lowered on the ground or pushed in a cement box. People weep. Dirt is dumped over or is sealed with cement. More food is given out.  Scene.



Nine days after the funeral, those left behind by the departed hold a novena in the house of the bereaved (sometimes this is done in the cemetery. This is the Nine Day Novena, or Pasiyam, a time when the soul is said to have left the worldly realm and has passed on to the afterlife. Food is then served afterwards. The Nine Day Novena is quite confusing as some people start the countdown at the day of the death while others start at they day of the internment.

The Forty Day Novena is also a mourning tradition for the dead. The story behind this tradition comes from the belief that the dead roam around the Earth for forty days before leaving. Masses are held at the cemetery with family and friends present.

Death is something no one can escape. It is honestly a comforting thought. It gives people a sense of mystery as to when their time will come. This is why all peoples, Filipino, American or European,  should live their lives to the fullest (no, not YOLO).

Losing loved ones is never easy, it takes time and willpower to get through the loss of someone very dear. J.R.R. Tolkien, author of the epic series The Lord of the Rings”, once said “In sorrow we must go, but not in despair. Behold! we are not bound for ever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory.” Hopefully this helps.


Roy Loyola Jr.

By Roy Loyola Jr.

Andrea Mendoza

By Andrea Mendoza

31 replies on “Crash Course: Funeral practices in the Philippines”

[…] This Novena for the Dead (Source: NovenaPrayers.Com), to be prayed for 9 consecutive days can help our transitioned loved ones in their journey to the other side.  This novena is, I believe,  a perfect substitute, although shorter, to the Philippine’s traditional “Pa-Siyam” novena for the souls – siyam is “9” in the native language, minus the litany.  This must therefore prayed for nine consecutive days (ideally in the evenings at 6 PM). Read more information about the Philippine traditional Pa-Siyam here » […]

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