“What is a cemetery?”
“Why do we need to light candles and offer flowers?”
“What are those stones with drawings and writings on them?”
These are just some of the questions your kids might ask during your annual visit to the cemetery during undas or All Souls Day. Before passing the buck to your husband or coming up with your own made-up story, it is best to equip yourself first with the facts.
In the Philippines, as a predominantly Catholic country, the celebration of undas is intended to commemorate departed loved ones. Technically speaking, “Undas,” which refers to November 1 is called All Saints Day, while November 2 is All Souls Day. While some religions may have their own beliefs about death and the afterlife, going to the cemetery during undas seems to have grown more into a Filipino tradition through the years, when people go back to their hometowns and also take advantage of the holidays for a mini-family reunion (perhaps, in the cemetery).
That said, there is no better way to explain this tradition to children except to say and describe it for what it really is – but of course in a simpler and more child-friendly manner and according to your own family’s beliefs. For example, you might say that the day is intended to remember your dead loved ones. Then the next question might be, “what does dead mean?” You can answer this by saying that people who get really old or really sick, pass away or die. You can maybe relate it to a story or an example that your child is familiar with, such as a pet dying. At the same time, thanks to the movie Coco, Disney has made both kids and adults not only more familiar with the Mexican culture of the Day of the Dead (Dia de Los Muertos), but has also somewhat explained the concept of remembrance of departed loved ones through a cute, colorful, funny and heartwarming story. You can use that as a reference and just build on it by also explaining the Filipino culture or your own personal/ religious beliefs.
On the other hand, one must not make up unrealistic stories or folklore for kids just to find a way out of this sticky situation to address a child’s curiosity. You might find that younger kids might get scared of the thought of dying and visualize gory images of zombies in their minds. However, if your child already has some ideas about these (because of Halloween), then make sure that you clarify the difference between fact and fiction, and acknowledge their fears.
At the end of the day, you know your child best. But do keep in mind that one style of explaining it might work for one child, but might not be as effective for another. So just remember to stick to the facts, keep it real, and keep it simple. Your child does not need a lengthy textbook explanation of the history of this tradition. And remember to keep your explanations short and relatable for his particular age.