Holy Week Traditions in the Philippines

Holy Week in the Philippines (Filipino: Mahal na Araw; Spanish: Semana Santa) is a significant religious observance for the country’s Catholic majority, the Iglesia Filipina Independiente or the Philippine Independent Church and most Protestant groups. One of the few majority Christian countries in Asia, Catholics make up 80 percent of the population, and the Church is one of the country’s dominant sociopolitical forces.

It begins on Palm Sunday and continues on through to Easter Sunday. Many communities observe Spanish-influenced Catholic rituals such as processions, that have been syncretized with elements of pre-colonial beliefs. This is evident in some ritual practices not sanctioned by the universal Church and the many superstitions associated with the occasion.

The days of the Easter Triduum (Maundy Thursday until Black Saturday) are considered statutory holidays. During this period, many businesses are closed or operate on shorter hours. Local terrestrial television and most radio stations usually go off the air, while others (such as stations owned by various denominations) cut their broadcasting hours and feature Lenten drama specials, religious and inspirational programming, as well as news coverage of various services and rites. International cable television channels distributed to the Philippines, however, continue to broadcast their normal programming while those based in the country follow a specially arranged schedule during the period, with the exception of channels dedicated to horse racing, cockfighting and the like that remain dormant for the duration of the period.


Notable observances and pilgrimage sites

Tondo, Manila

Caridad or Pakaridad is a way of giving or sharing food (especially ginataan or suman) to the neighbors or to the local church or chapel to be given to the crowds of people who attend the Good Friday procession. A complimentary drink of water is also given by local residents living along the processional route.


Black Nazarene

The Black Nazarene icon, brought from Mexico during the Galleon Trade era, is enshrined in Quiapo Church, and is considered miraculous by devotees is brought out for procession every Good Friday. The statue is borne on the shoulders of male devotees in a slow, difficult procession around the narrow streets of the district, a score of men struggle to keep the image moving on. Thousands more try to muscle their way to touch the Nazarene as if carried by a powerful tide in an ocean of humanity.


Amulet hunting

It is a folk belief that anting-anting (traditional amulets) are especially potent if collected, made, or imbued with power on Good Friday. In Sipalay, Negros Occidental many albularyos (witch doctors) search for anting-anting in unexplored caves. There is a particular type of anting-anting for every need: for passing exams, childbirth, protection from danger, love, good business, or invincibility. Holy Week also attracts folk healers who gather and showcase their amulets’ power in the middle of the plaza. Holy Week is believed to be the best time to recharge your anting-antingAntingeros (talisman aficionados) even go to Mt. Banahaw (believed to be a sacred mountain) on Good Friday to empower it there themselves. Believers of anting-anting claim that the best time to recharge the spiritual energy of their talisman is during the night of Good Friday. Different groups also identify their own special places for ‘recharging’ their amulets: cemeteries, mountain tops, churches, etc. Recharging of anting-anting is usually done through repeatedly chanting Latin incantations (copies of which may also be bought) while holding the talisman.


Procession of Statues

On Holy Wednesday, a procession is held with Paete’s 53 images of Christ’s life and death. The procession goes through the town’s narrow streets en route to the church. It stops three times to give way to the Salubong (meeting) which depicts three scenes of Jesus’ passion and in which Paete’s “moving saints” take part. These are the meeting of Christ and Mary, held at the church patio; the wiping of Jesus’ face by Veronica, which takes place at Plaza Edesan; and finally, the encounter between Mary and Veronica where the latter shows the miraculous imprints of Christ’s face on her cloth. This is held at the town plaza.


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In San Pablo, the Good Friday procession consists of huge, century-old statues bedecked in fresh flowers. In the old times, the famous processions were that of Saint Bartholomew of Malabon, Binan, Laguna, Pateros and Tuguegaro. Unfortunately, the Holy Week Images from Cagayan were destroyed by the war and similarly the Tres Caidas of Binan. In the seventies, the Holy Week Procession of Malabon consisted of 30 silver carrozas. The highlight was the Tres Caidas either from Talleres Maximo or Asuncion. It today does no longer join the procession of Good Friday. The most famous procession in Manila during the interwar period was of Santa Cruz. Almost all images were obliterated during the aerial-bombardment of Manila in 1945. Today Makati has a major Holy Wednesday procession aside from the usual Good Friday one, both of which have some of the oldest images and are held in the city proper.


Senákulo

Many towns have their own versions of the Senákulo, using traditional scripts that are decades or centuries old. A version is held at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, sponsored by the Department of Tourism. Popular film and televisions stars often join the cast of the play. In Taguig, they popularize the modern version of Jesus Christ Superstar reshown at the Fort Santiago Amphitheater for the benefit of Manileños. In Mexico, Pampanga and Dinalupihan, Bataan, the actor portraying Jesus has been actually nailed to the cross to simulate Christ’s passion.


Pagtaltal sa Guimaras

Ang Pagtaltal is a holy Lenten presentation staged on the hillside of Jordan, Guimaras every Good Friday, patterned to Oberammergau in Southern Bavaria, Germany. “Pagtaltal” means to remove. Thus, the drama ends with the removal or bringing down the body of Jesus Christ from the cross and is laid in the arms of Mother Mary, a familiar scene we all know and called the “Pieta.”

Backed up by a strong Christian community, Jordan has registered its first festival in Pagtaltal sa Jordan, Guimaras, a Good Friday spectacle. This saga of the sufferings of Christ is enacted with intense spirituality, religious realism, theatrical color, and mass appeal that outclass other presentation of similar flavor. The ever increasing throng of spectators, both local and foreign, who brave the summer heat to witness Pagtaltal is proof of its popularity.


Moriones Festival

The Moriones Festival in the island province of Marinduque commemorates the story of the Roman centurion, Longinus (Tagalog: San Longhino) and his legendary conversion at the foot of the cross. The townsfolk of Boac and Mogpog are dressed in masks and helmets (moriones), depicting Roman soldiers, and unusually for the country, observe Holy Week in a much more joyous manner.


Salubong in Pasig

In one book written by an American, the author observed that the Easter Sunday Procession of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Pasig was the most beautiful one. Since Pasig is older than the other towns of the former Province of Tondo, it was suggested that the Pasig ceremony inspired those in Makati, Paranaque and other towns which had Augustinian parishes. Two processions emerged from the church and met in front of the town or city plaza or in a designated place assigned in the area, wherein Mother and Son greeted each other to the tune of Regina Coeli sung by children.


Saboy

The Saboy is a traditional dance performed by girls on Easter Sunday in Las Piñas, Metro Manila. The dance is divided into two parts, the “mourning” section and the “joyful” version.

The first dancer is the Salubong Angel, who often has large wings and bears a black veil. Second is the Hosanna Angels dressed in white, who usually hold baskets with rose petals and comprise a majority of the dancers.

Third are the Tres Marías (English: Three Marys), three older girls dressed in pink and also bearing baskets. Last, are the blue-clad Kapitana (Captainess) and Tinyentera (Female Lieutenant); the Kapitana can be distinguished by the large banner she waves, while the Tinyentera swings a thurible.


Sayaw ng Pagbatì

The Salubong is also held in Parañaque City, but with the Mass followed by different renditions of the Sayaw ng Pagbatì (“Dance at the Greeting”).

Called “Sayaw ng Pagbati” (Welcome dance) or “Bati-bati” for short, this ritual dancing shows up to what pious length the local faithful are prepared to take just to tell the world that “Christ is risen”.

On Easter morning right after mass and the “Salubong” (Encounter) between the images of the Risen Christ and the Blessed Mother, beribboned girls from the various barangays of Parañaque clad in white gowns file in front of St. Andrew’s Cathedral. Taking their cue from the marching band, they will dance for hours till noon to the tune of joyful music as they wave their wands in the air.


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