Holy Week Traditions and Activities in the Philipines
Christianity was first introduced to the Filipinos in the 1500s by the Spaniards. From thereon, the religion spread like wildfire throughout the country. Presently, Philippines is the only Christian nation in Asia with 86 percent Roman Catholic citizens. That’s why Filipinos regard every Catholic holiday and special occasion as something worth celebrating. It does not come as a surprise that Holy Week in the Philippines calls for every household to start the preparations for a busy week ahead.
Holy Week in the Philippines or Semana Santa is a week of solemn contemplation on the passion and suffering of Jesus before his death. This occasion is just as special to Filipinos as Christmas is. Commemoration starts 40 days before the actual week of observance with Ash Wednesday, when people get marked on their head with ash in form of a cross. During the Holy Week especially on Good Friday, Filipino Catholics stay at home or go to church to pray and meditate on Christ’s crucifixion and death. It is also during this week that Filipinos, both young and old observe customs and traditions.
Common Rituals During Holy Week in the Philippines
Although some millennials opt to spend Holy Week in the beach, many still practice the following traditions:
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Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week. During this day of the Holy Week in the Philippines, people flock to church with palm fronds or palaspas to be waved upon the priest’s entry to the church. It’s like a reenactment of Jesus and His disciples’ entrance to Jerusalem, where people welcome them by waving large palm leaves.
During the mass, the carefully styled palm leaves are blessed by the priest. People usually place it outside their doors after believing it will prevent evil from entering their houses.
Fasting and abstinence
Fasting is done to understand the suffering and the sacrifices Jesus did for mankind. As a sign of penitence, on Ash Wednesday and every Friday throughout the Lenten Season, Catholics are required to avoid meat and, if possible, reduce mealtime to once a day. Young children and the sick are exempted of this practice, though.
Nowadays, some devout Catholics volunteer to give up some of their “guilty pleasures” like smoking, gambling, or even their favorite food as a sign of penance.
Pabasa is a ritual that includes chanting or singing instead of just reading the words of Pasyon, a book that recounts the life of Jesus, from birth until His death and resurrection. Participants of the ritual are grouped into two. Each group sings the lines or verse by turn, sometimes in a cappella, but lately, it is accompanied by guitars to make the ritual lively and appealing to the younger generation.
Washing of the feet
This religious ritual is usually witnessed by churchgoers during the Holy Thursday mass, which the priest wash the feet of twelve persons to commemorate the washing of feet of the apostles by Jesus during the last supper as a “sign of humility and being of service to others.”
Visita Iglesia is another tradition during Holy Week in the Philippines, usually on Holy Thursday or Good Friday, where Catholics visit at least seven churches and recite the Station of the Cross, though some churchgoers prefer to pray silently on their own.
Stations of the Cross
Also called Way of the Cross or Via Crucis, Stations of the Cross is a religious tradition among Catholics, where they pray and meditate in front of each of Jesus Christ’s fourteen images depicting the events of His crucifixion until His resurrection.
Senakulo is a play that tells the story of life, passion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The dramatization is oftentimes held in the mountain area within the town, sometimes just within the church. In some parts of the country, the play is done in the streets where interested tourists could watch.
There’s also another form of Senakulo where performers in costumes walk in the streets under the heat of the sun and hit themselves to bleed with lashes as an act of contrition. It ends on Easter Sunday with the reenactment of Jesus’s resurrection.
Salubong is another ritual during Holy Week in the Philippines. It is usually done very early in the morning on Easter Sunday, usually at 4 o’clock. It’s a reenactment of the first meeting of Christ and Mary after His resurrection.
The ritual starts with two processions: one side is the group carrying the statue of Mary covered with a black veil as a sign of mourning, and on the opposite side is the group carrying the image of Christ. The two groups will eventually merge in the middle and then an angel, usually played by a young girl (sometimes an image of an angel with a hook in its hands is used), will remove the veil to end Mary’s grieving.
The merged group will then proceed to the church to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, ending the Holy Week and the fasting. Families usually celebrate Easter Sunday by preparing lavish food at home while some eat out in restaurants.