Funerals and Games

Syndicated columnist Norine Dresser is the author of "Multicultural Manners"

American-born John works as an executive in a hotel corporation in Manila. One day, his Filipino coworker Tony stays home from the office because his father has died. Concerned, John boards a jitney after work and travels to Tony's home to pay his respects. While John is prepared to see the body lying in state, he is shocked to discover people sitting around Tony's house playing mah-jongg.

What does it mean?

A Filipino wake lasts for nine days. During this time, mourners observe a 24-hour vigil. They pass the time and keep themselves awake by eating and playing mah-jongg, an ancient Chinese gambling game played with design-decorated tiles. During an ordinary game, winners set aside part of their winnings to help the host pay for refreshments. At a wake, winners give an even larger percentage to the mourners to assist with funeral expenses. Although in large cities the body is kept at the mortuary, mah-jongg playing persists at home, especially on the ninth night, which ends the novena.

More than 900,000 Filipinos live in Southern California and many continue the mah-jongg tradition when a family members dies.


Syndicated columnist Norine Dresser is the author of "Multicultural Manners" (Wiley, 1996). E-mail:

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