Sunday, April 23, 2006

Cuaresma in the Philippines

A local newspaper recently publish a picture of a Filipino mother and child bathing in, and this is how they wrote the caption: "the polluted waters of Manila Bay." Sure we have pollution and overpopulation and many other problems in our country but for an Easter themed news, but, was this ALL the was to the Holy Week and Easter celebrations in my country? Certainly not. I have since then sent an article to the said newspapers about how Filipinos celebrate the Semana Santa as well as include some pictures I've found online thanks to, and the Don Bosco websites.

I'd like to share the same content here in my blog, so here it goes...

Easter Sunday is only one day compared to the "Semana Santa" (or Holy Week) or “Cuaresma” which is what we call The Week being the significant culmination of our faith as Catholic Filipinos during the Lenten Season.

All over the Philippines, we begin our celebrations with Palm Sunday, which we call “Palaspas”. People bring coconut palm leaves to church – usually converted into very creative designs – to re-enact Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. These are then blessed by the priest and kept in everyone’s homes and acts as protection for those homes as well as an object that wards off evil spirits.

Onwards from this day, people begin to be more somber in mood and deeds, recollecting Christ’s passion and reflecting on how their lives have been for the past year, similar to what some would do during the New Year’s Eve but with more focus on being a person of faith.

Many would practice fasting or giving up of daily indulgences locally called “indolehencia” where for example, if normally you would ride to work in your car; for this week you may consider taking the public transport, at the least, or; if you normally indulge in eating chocolates, you may want to refrain from the habit this week. Other “more difficult” forms are fasting for the entire week, taking only water; refraining from “acts of the flesh”; keeping a vow of silence; and many more. The bottom line is, you make a sacrifice or you give up a worldly pleasure as a way of internalizing your faith and walking in Jesus’ footsteps.

The week also begins the daily “pabasa” or reading of the “Pasyon”. This is based on a book of text originally attributed to Gaspar Aguinaldo de Belen who wrote “Ang Mahal na Passion ni Jesu Christong Panginoon Natin sa Tola” (The Holy Passion of Jesus Christ our Lord in Poetry) published in the early 1700s.

The “Pasyon” is read the whole day from as early as 6:00 am until about 10:00 pm. Most communities would have professional “Pasyon” readers who have made it their life’s pledge to read the “Pasyon” during Holy Week and pass on the responsibility and the privilege to the next generation. It begins with readings from the Old Testament and focuses on Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection in the New Testament. Huge crowds usually gather round the reader to listen and reflect on the words.

The narrative poem is read in a distinct way as each paragraph is 5 lines long and one line has 8 syllables each, giving it a chant-like tune that only seasoned readers know how to articulate. Often the reader, feeling the gravity of Christ’s suffering, would himself or herself be affected to tears. Sometimes, readers would be given access to microphones or megaphones that would project their voices loud enough to be heard through several homes in a neighborhood. Since people are encouraged to be solemn and practice silence, the “pabasa” would float over the community not unlike the call of prayers from the mosque.

As the Pasyon’s “kubol” (tent) us being built so too is a stage for the week’s “Senakulo.” This religious play is spoken in verse giving the lines of each actor a poetic sing-song lilt that is amusing to the audience. The senakulo runs for each night of the Holy Week from Palm Sunday through to Easter Sunday. The theme is always about the life and suffering of Jesus Christ focusing on his final days as a mortal but several senakulo’s by tradition also reflect Philippine socio-political events and may have an underlying political message throughout the plays. Children and adults alike enjoy the senakulo where actors where colorful costumes and add their own personal interpretation to the characters.

Serious fasting and self denial intensifies on Maundy Thursday. Here people take time to be with their families and go to church to remember “The Way of the Cross” – Jesus capture, condemnation, suffering and crucifixion. Eating meat is avoided and people stick to traditional fares of bico (rice cakes), guinatan (sweet yam, glutinuous rice, ube and banana cooked in coconut milk), puto (another version of rice cakes) or just plain bread.

On Good Friday, many would either be in church or stay at home with their families and watch religious programs like “The Ten Commandments” or “Jesus of Nazareth” and continue to be penitent. Several towns gather to witness men and a few women who voluntarily whip themselves while in procession in the streets to the town center where some of them would be nailed and crucified like Jesus. This is the consummate penitentia, being able to walk the path of sorrow and suffering like Jesus did. This has received mixed reviews from many tourists who come to the Philippines to witness this but for the people who actually do the Penitentia, they are more concerned with their internal struggle to be like Christ even to be crucified like Him. Some have even done the Penitentia more than once and has become an annual ritual of self-denial, sacrifice and spiritual rebirth. Many Filipinos opt not to bathe on Good Friday given that Christ died on this day. Also on this day, the parish priest of each community would select several community members to act as the apostles. He would then proceed to wash these men’s feet and anoint them with oil as Christ did to his own twelve apostles.

Black Saturday is marked by the Visita Iglesia. Families would visit the “holy bier” of Jesus in as many churches as they can afford to visit. In our family, we try to visit thirteen churches on this day within Metro Manila. Famous stops are the Baclaran, Quiapo and Intramuros churches in the Manila area, others would be churches meaningful to our family like our parish church, the parish church where we went to school, St. Anthony in Singalong; the church where my parents got married, Pope Pious near Luneta, added to the rest that are accessible or en route to family and friends homes because visiting relatives and friends is one of the do-ables in Filipino Holy Week. A recent addition to our “to be visited” list is my husband’s parish church, Holy Family in Roxas District, Quezon City and the church where we got married, Our Lady of the Airways in Paranaque, near the International Airport.

It is actually on Black Saturday that people, who did not bathe on Good Friday, take a communal bath either in the rivers and seas all over the Philippines or in their homes. Many believe that if you jumped up and down on Black Saturday, you would likely grow taller in the year. From 10:00 pm, people may take meat especially young children and not doing so may cause you to suffer from an illness within the year.

In the evening, many people would be in their parish church to pray and hold a vigil. The Rosary would be prayed continuously as people remember Mary, Christ’s mother in her most trying times. The mass at midnight begins with all the lights turned off and a candle held by each attendee is lighted until the whole congregation is bright from all the burning candles.

At dawn, we have the Salubong where a procession carrying the image of Mary meets a separate procession carrying the image of the Risen Lord Jesus. This is followed by mass where people renew their faith as was recited to them during their Baptism. At home, families gather together in what would be similar to a Christmas feast and would indulge children to Easter egg hunts as well as sweets and even presents.

Concurrently in Marinduque, one of the cities in the Philippines (located in a separate island), celebrates the Moriones Festival on Easter Sunday. This is a colorful mardi gras that follows the life of a Roman Legionnaire, Longinus, who became a Christian convert during Christ’s “way of the cross” and crucifixion. Performers dance and act in the streets and are dressed as Romans wearing toga and the legionnaire’s outfits all wearing colorful masks. It ends when Longinus is captured and beheaded for his faith.


As you can see, Filipinos do not just bathe in the polluted waters of Manila Bay. They relive the joys and sufferings of the Christ Jesus through a whole week of reflection, worship and self denial culminating in a meaningful reaffirmation of faith and joyful celebrations.

Belated Happy Easter to all.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Amber's First Day at School

Woke up at 7:00 am sharp. Amber was excited she couldn’t eat! Wow even her milk, she declined. Grabe na ito! Papayat na ata sa wakas ang biik ko! hehehe

A quick morning wash she dressed up in a new dress with red vertical stripes quite similar in look to the school’s uniform. Her uniforms were not ready yet. Wearing her school shoes, new socks and a new frock she posed with her bag for some snapshots as we prepared her school snack box. I packed biscuits, cupcakes, a strawberry jam sandwich she particularly requested the night before and some strawberry milkshake and water.

Kate and I took her to school and we were early. She sat on her desk, painted pink, and patiently waited for the other students to come and excited for her class to begin. We loitered around the playground for a while, taking glimpses of how she is behaving. One time I peeked, she had one leg up on her desk, examining her shoe. She put it back down quickly. Second time I looked; she moved to the farthest (in the back) desk in the room and was looking at the pictures on the walls. She moved to probably get a bigger view, or to give the front seats to the other arriving students, how thoughtful!

By this time, we’ve been in school for about 30 minutes when the Supervisor told us that if they are settled and in the class, better go and let them be. Seeing parents lurking around may incite children to feel more anxious. So we left, taking our last glimpse of Amber Declan. She was looking like Gromit but without her arms folded together. (The Gromit look is one she made up after seeing the animated Wallace and Gromit movie. Since the dog does not talk, he has many facial expressions, one of them Amber had perfected to a tee.) Her look may be because she’s eager for something to happen, or she’s still a bit sleepy from the early wake up call. Whatever it was I will never know as Kate and I drove home.

At 12:00 noon I rushed back to school to pick her up. Now she was seated at the front right side of the room and immediately stood up and grabbed her bag saying, “My mommy is here, bye teacher Sabina!” and went out the room without a second look.

I told her we have to go pick up her uniform because it is now ready and on the way she said, “Mom I enjoyed school today. Look I have a star and a smiley face”, showing both backs of her hands to me proudly.

In the car, she said they were made to color a flag and a kite. They also made a circle and played some games.

When we got home, she was pretty hungry. Checking her snack box, she only drank her strawberry milk and ate the small cake but barely took a bite off her sandwich. We tried on her new uniform and she posed for more pictures.

She said, “Mom a boy teased me today.” Alarm bells went ringing in my head and asked her, “So what did he say and what did you do?” My daughter laughed and said, “I couldn’t understand what he said but he looked really funny!”

Asked whether she wants to go back again tomorrow, she simply affirmed, “Yes.”

Awww, my baby is growing up into a school girl. I’m so proud and happy.

Monday, April 03, 2006

First time in school

My daughter starts school on Saturday. I don't know who is more excited, her or me. We've gone to get her books, went for uniform fittings - which she will hopefully get before school starts - and bought school bag, lunch box, pencil case, the works. She chose her own things and being three and highly influenced by Barbie and Walt Disney, you can see the stuff she's got: Carebears back pack that matches her pencils (given by her Auntie K), Fairy tale princesses lunch box that matches her pencil case...everything in pink! OK so it's not my favorite color, but then again, it's not for me :-)

My little girl is fast growing up. She's making her own choices. She's starting off into the world making her own discoveries and relationships that may not necessarily include me. I'm scared for her but I'm proud too. At three she has decided that she wants to go to school. She's been good at waking up at 7 am each day for a month now. She may have slipped a few times and called for an extension but overall, she has accepted the new routine because she wants to be in school.

Today, we went for an Orientation at her new school and parents get orientated separately from their children. When we got there, we were the first to arrive for the 11 o'clock session so she bravely entered her classroom where she met her teacher and sat like a proper, well-behaved student. I can see a bit of apprehension on her face especially when I waved and told her that I will be in another room for the parents' orientation. Her wave was unsure but held all the bravery a three year old could muster.

After the 45-minute presentation and a bit of Q & A from parents, we all went back to collect our kids who've had an orientation of their own. My daughter being the first to arrive is not seated at the back. Still well-behaved, still dry-eyed. Approaching the room, you can hear squeals of other children - frightened and looking for their mother or father. I stepped back a bit, expecting one of them to be my own, but she's strong. I can't deny her relief and happiness when she saw me. She stood up and ran to me shouting, "Mommy!" Outside her classroom she looked intense when she asked me, "Mom, why were my classmates crying?" How do I answer that?

As I slowly let her go to be the person that she wants to be, a part of me wants to hold back just for a little while longer. Soon I will no longer be the source of all knowledge and wisdom for my growing toddler. Soon, I will hear her say, "But mom, my teacher said...." or "Yes, but my friend said....." Yes, how time truly flies. My little girl is slowly coming into her own - starting at school.

So this coming Saturday, I'm not really sure who will be more teary-eyed at the school or Amber.