The First Day of November always heralds the season of holidays when people get busy cooking food to bring in the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried. Fiesta Minatay, as what we Negrénses call Undas or Todos los Santos, is not a time of mourning or horror but of joyful festivities. Cemeteries are transformed from places of mourning and solace to a fiesta town when the departed’s family would set up tent and place multitudes of food on the table. This is the tradition which I was brought up and sorely missed since my family settled in Metropolitan Manila. My late grandfather Col. Elpidio Mayo died in the United States in 1995 but his body was buried in Rolling Hills Memorial Park where we go every year since the first Fiesta Minatay. Our dearest Tatty, our affectionate nickname for him, is dearly loved even as he passed away.
Tatty’s tomb is just located nearest the entrance and is blessed to have a large space for our encampment for the night. Food is always a play of flavors with each family of the Mayo Clan preparing their own dishes to share. Even as there are different food being prepared, there is one thing in common: bugas na pilit. Bugas na pilit or sticky rice which is used for several Negrénse dishes which is quite a common sight among families in the cemetery. The essence of food prepared with pilit and tikoy, a Chinese New Year food item also made of sticky rice, is the same: to symbolize the bond in the family. Paella Valenciana, Negrénse Valenciana and Suman, or what is known as bico in the Tagalog areas, are pretty much the staple of every Fiesta Minatay table. Another food item made with pilit with coconut milk and sugar is the Kalamay-hati sa Paya. Oftentimes kalamay-hati is prepared without the paya or coconut shell but in the spirit of the occasion, it is placed in the coconut shell as a take-home item.
Our fiesta minatay in Rolling Hills would not be complete if we do not roam around the cemetery to find friends. Not to mention, us cousins would burn cash giving each other a treat with countless stalls like that of Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, KFC and many others sprouting in the Activity Center or other places that have a lot of people. Banderitas are fluttering by poles and sound systems set up in every corner for, what do you know, party music! Looks more like a fiesta than your ordinary tribute, right? There are even kiddie talent shows or dog shows for the owners of cemetery lots while others look forward to the fireworks display and the film showing afterwards. We would often watch horror movie showing for the night in the ampitheater lawn or go to the darker areas of the cemetery and tell horror stories. That is your fiesta minatay tradition at its finest, showcasing Mexican influence while having a uniquely Negrénse character to it, something I miss so much and want to experience again.