Holy Week in The Philippines: a personal perspective

I was born and raised as a Catholic, and so were most of my neighbors. Safe to say that I grew up in a Catholic community.

Most members of our clan and my childhood friends have always observed the Holy Week and Lent in general. We would go to church on Ash Wednesday to mark the beginning of Lent. Our foreheads would be marked with ashes so we knew who among us went to church and who didn’t. They say it’s a symbol of penance teaching us humility and sacrifice, and a reminder for us that life on earth is temporary, we all go back to dust.

Then on Palm Sunday, which marks the beginning of Holy Week (which is the last week of Lent), we would bring palms to commemorate the triumphant entry of Jesus to Jerusalem. Those palms would be blessed by the Parish Priest and we would take them home to adorn our altars or attach them to our front and back doors to signify our faith (although some people would regard them as amulets for protection from evil spirits and evil people).

palm sunday in the philippines
Photo Credits: AP

We would make sure to attend the Stations of the Cross in throngs.  In my hometown within Davao City, the Stations of the Cross were scattered around the vast area of Toril. We would converge at Sto. Rosario Parish and we would march around Manggahan to Daliao and back to the parish.  I think they’ve changed the route over the last few years since Toril now has two parishes: Sto. Rosario and Birhen delos Remedios. Despite the hundreds of attendees of the Stations of the Cross in my town, it was impossible not to chance upon good friends and relatives in one of the 14 Stations.

Some would do Visita Iglesia,  visiting various churches around the country. On Easter Sunday, we didn’t have Easter egg hunts in our community during our time. We would celebrate Easter by going to church early in the morning.

But not everything about the Holy Week was alright with me. There’s Good Friday — my least favorite and most dreaded day of the year.

I remember when I was growing up, I heard adults saying that God is dead during Good Friday. As a child, I took it literally. Holy Week happens every year so I presumed God would die every year. And it scared me everytime. I was a pious kid who never ceased to pray a day in my innocent life and so the idea that God was dead on Good Friday and Black Saturday was the scariest thing to me. I would avoid playing outside thinking that God wouldn’t be there to look after me.

There were many others that we couldn’t and wouldn’t do on Good Friday (and Black Saturday):

  • No music playing
  • No boisterous laughing
  • No merry making (sorry if it falls on your birthday)
  • No adventures (like going to the nearby river, climbing tree branches and hanging upside-down, swimming in the beach, anything that gives you adrenalin rush)
  • No travels
  • No bath or shower (at least for some people)
  • No meat
  • No work (regular holiday across the country)
  • Less TV (no regular programming on Philippine TV on Good Friday anyway)

These were essential parts of our mourning and fasting, our ways of observing and respecting the Holy Week.

But despite all this, one family tradition would lift us up every Good Friday. It’s the day for the family’s highly-anticipated Binignit! (If you’re not Filipino but you know halo-halo, imagine halo-halo without crushed ice but instead mixed with coconut milk and served hot).  Binignit has become part of the Holy Week tradition, along with boiled kamote and saging, sometimes with other kakanin. For kids like us, it was a feast, not fasting. I guess for adults it was fasting considering that it’s not a regular meal of rice and meat.

Anyway, as I grew older, I realized that I and some people may have taken things literally that God is dead every Good Friday and Black Saturday.  He can’t be literally dead every year.  Instead, we’re only commemorating His death on the cross many years ago. It’s a reminder of His precious sacrifice for the sake of our salvation.  It reminds us to reflect on our sins, repent, and reinforce our faith.

Maybe I am not as Catholic as I was before because I have stopped doing most of the Holy Week traditions I’ve grown up to. Hats off to my fellow Catholics who never stopped upholding the traditions like the Stations of the Cross and the Easter Vigil, among others. I believe these traditions help keep the lessons of Lent and the Holy Week alive.

Today is Good Friday…but I’m not afraid anymore.  As a grownup, my personal perspective is that God is alive whether we believe Him or not.  And He is always looking after us every second of the day…even on the days He is said to be dead.

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