It’s morn of November 1st. Outside, it’s cold. The streets are still empty, dark, and quiet. Likely the neighbors are starting to wake from their slumber, still groggy from parties that took them way over their weekday bed time. I was slightly brought to wake by a Tornado warning at 1:30 am. Too sleepy to care, I went back to sleep. I woke back up at 4. Everything in the house and outside seems okay, from what I can see. As November gratitude month begins for many, I will join and start with one I’m thankful for this morning upon waking: that the tornado just passed as a warning and nothing more. We are safe.
What else am I thankful for?
#1 – My heritage.
Last night, was Hallow’s Eve, Halloween as more commonly known. It is a tradition that stems way back in the ages. Different countries have different customs but the base is that it celebrates the dead. Growing up in the Philippines in the 80s, I didn’t know about Halloween back then. What we celebrated on November 1st, Oct. 31st U.S. time, is All Saint’s Day, followed by All Soul’s Day on November 2. It’s a tradition we practiced every year during my childhood, commonly known as Undas (Undras), or Day of the Dead – another tradition introduced to Filipinos during the Spanish colonization that spanned 3 centuries.
Death first came to my attention when my paternal great grandmother passed away, at the age of 109, if I remember correctly. I was young but old enough to remember her on her death bed. I didn’t understand all the funeral customs. I see my dad offer Suman, banana wrapped steamed rice, at our home altar as customary gifts to our dearly departed family members during Undas (All Soul’s Day); but, I’ve always wondered why. Then my maternal grandfather passed away when I was 9. I was older and more attentive. I understood more of the customs: the Pulaw, large black butterflies representing our dearly departed, 9-day novena, the 40 days the souls walk the Earth before permanently leaving, spending the day and way into the dark night at the cemetery during All Saints Day and/or All Souls Day to honor our deceased family members, and many more customs we do to honor the dead, most of which we still follow today.
These customs strengthen familial bonds. It is why many Filipinos choose to fly back to their homeland to pay respect to their dearly departed, to feel closer and remember them. I am thankful for my heritage because family is love to us. I grow up in a tight knit family. While there is bickering and fights that broke off, like any family, we managed to stay together and support each other through life’s trials.
#2 – My grandfather
This coming Saturday, November 2nd, All Soul’s Day, is my late grandfather’s birthday. At the same time this year, we are celebrating my uncle’s 70th birthday, his son. We are celebrating both life and death.
Let me tell you how badass my grandfather was
My grandfather served 20 years in the U.S. Navy and fought in the Vietnam War. He was such a hardworking man, that, despite being poor and needing to work to support his family, he was given a scholarship to attend high school. He worked for a living, went to school, and was awarded the highest award at graduation: class Valedictorian. He married his then gitlfriend, my grandma, at such a young age to keep her from harm during the Japanese occupation of Philippines, when single women were taken by force. During his Navy career, he laboured and sacrificed to give his family the best and was successful in getting all 9 children on U.S. soil.
The U.S. Navy is deeply rooted in our family, as it raised us from poverty by means of my grandfather’s will and perseverance. Proving where there is will, with hard work, there will always be a way. Because of him, I will always have something to be thankful for. All my uncles followed my grandfather’s footsteps too. One I, and the kids, have been privilege to experience alongside my husband too.
This November 1st marks the beginning of the gratitude month encourage by Thanksgiving Day reeling at it’s tail on November 28th. We get so busy in our day to day living, we forget to give thanks for the little things that make us whole. I encourage you to take a minute to count your blessings, because however none existential it may seem to be at the moment, there are so much to be thankful for. I hope this Thanksgiving month reminds each one of us that.
Until next time.