October 14 & 25: Candle, Transformation

I never experienced celebrating Halloween when I was a kid – ever. We didn’t have it in my hometown. I never get to carry a carved pumpkin, even the plastic fake ones and roam around the neighborhood with other kids to hoard a staggering amount of assorted chocolate candies. I never get to wear a rainbow dress or some fairy wings or a sparkling tiara. I never had my face painted with stardust twirls or teardrop jewels. No fancy flowers in my ears or Tinker Bell wand in my hand. One day though, when I have my own daughter, we will dress up as angels with matching wings and halos. That will be really cool.

What I had back then instead of getting all dressed up and excited for sweets, are a bunch of new candles in different sizes, some sticky desserts made of glutinous rice and just for my entertainment, a box of new crayons.

Every second of November, when the kids from other parts of the world have emptied their Halloween buckets, I on the other hand would be celebrating All Soul’s Day with my family. We normally just light up candles in all corners of the house.  My father buys the candles and my mother does the ritual which consist of lighting the torch and praying for the souls of our dead loved ones, even the souls of those who occupied our house thousands of years ago. My mother believed it will give them enough peace so as not to trouble us. And then we have this very small altar with a statue of the beautiful Mary, a giant wooden rosary placed on top of the framed photo of Jesus and a medium size crucifix where we would offer prayers and some personal intentions. She would also place a bowl of either chocolate porridge or Local noodles (pancit) at the altar for the dead.

For some reason the atmosphere of this day is always gloomy and shaded with dark afternoon clouds. The night is always solemn and enveloped by dismal wondering and contemplation. But even so, there was something soothing about this day. Most families would go to cemeteries to visit their dead in the grave. But as much as visiting the dead – who will obviously be unresponsive of all their efforts, it is a day of strong family bonding. The entire family would surround the grave and spend the night together doing normal stuff – as they would if that special person is still alive.

We only stayed home when I was kid. Most of our dead relatives were buried in the province, which was an eight hour drive from the city. We would however end up watching horror movies and documentaries which really scared the hell out of me. And because my dad knew that, he would let me divert my fears with art. This, I enjoyed a lot. A splatter of colorful chaos on a clean white sheet. There’s a piercing turmoil found in the flame that brushes the pastel with warmth, rapture and passion. I would watch the crayons bleed blissfully in the faithful heat of the candle.

The playful speck and stain on paper that comes from melted crayons never fail me. They were always painfully beautiful. What worried me though are the remaining pastels that were once dipped into flame. They have been transformed completely. Scarred and blemished by experience. They will still create the same astounding colors but they will never be the same again.

I called my dad over the phone last night and he said he’s driving to the province next week to visit my mother. His two daughters are out of the country and my brother is busy running his business. He will light a candle over my mother’s grave by himself under the dark November sky. He will be surrounded by families sitting on a picnic blanket, with cooked meal, and flowers and perhaps a guitar and some cold beer (although drinking has always been banned.) There will be singing and story telling and laughing and lots of retrospection.  And I guess the saddest part above all these, is that he will be driving eight hours of what can be an infinite silence, knowing that his passenger seat has now been emptied.

If I’m back home and had to do this with my dad, an eight hour road trip and my mother’s very first candle on All Soul’s Day, I think I would be needing a giant box of crayons to cheer me up. That or I will be needing a pail of colored paints and a huge wall.

A very huge wall…so I can splash the colorful chaos that we once had.

Photo by: Pinterest and


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