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Holy Week In The Philippines

If it’s your first time here the Philippines and you come here during Holy Week and haven’t heard what is it about, you will be shocked! Virtually the entire country closes down. Many businesses are close on Thursday, Friday and Saturday before Easter, and even Easter day as well. Just imagine many TV and Radio stations are off the air and those who remain on air will have different programs. The regular TV and radio programs are put on hold until Saturday or even Sunday. Many would think the country comes to a standstill, but the people are practically on travel. It’s a time to go back home and see their families because it’s a long vacation from work.

What Is Holy Week?

Holy week in Christianity is the last week before Easter. It commemorates the last week of the earthly life of Jesus Christ culminating in his crucifixion on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

Holy Week observances began in Jerusalem in the earliest days of the Church, when devout people traveled to Jerusalem at Passover to reenact the events of the week leading up to the Resurrection.

The purpose of Holy Week is to reenact, relive, and participate in the passion of Jesus Christ. See Honest to God for an explanation of what we accomplish by doing this.

The following events in the week before Easter are the following:
  • Palm Sunday (or Passion Sunday), the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem.
  • Holy Thursday (or Maundy Thursday), the institution of Communion and the betrayal by Judas.
  • Good Friday, the arrest, trial, crucifixion, death, and burial of Jesus Christ.
  • Holy Saturday, the Sabbath on which Jesus rested in the grave.
Holy Week In The Philippines

Holy Week, known as “Semana Santa”, is treated as one of the most important religious festivals of the entire year. As a nation that highly values religious traditions and being the only “Christian” nation in the Far East, Holy Week in the Philippines is celebrated in solemnity. Christian and superstitious traditions combine in remembering the passion and death of Jesus Christ. Many still practice not eating pork/beef during the Lenten season, while others acquire some other forms of penance or fasting.

The belief of such religious practices brought to the Philippines by the Spanish when they first planted the Cross (symbol of Christianity) on the islands signaling the advent of the conversion of the natives to Christianity or Catholic faith.

I can still remember when I was younger that we were not allowed to go and play outside during Maundy Thursday because it was (or still is for the folks) the day when the Jews were looking for Jesus to seize Him. We might stumble upon them or them upon us (as they are invisible) which will eventually injure us. We were prohibited of doing anything on Good Friday and Black Saturday because it “is” the death of Jesus (meaning God is dead) and no one will be watching or guarding us from evil. As silly as we were told not to dig anything on the ground because we might dig the buried Jesus, we were not allowed to sing a song and listen to music; we are supposed to mourn the death of Jesus Christ.

The Holy Week in the Philippines has various appeals for everyone that combine native traditions and modern day touches with numerous innovations according to locale:

On Palm Sunday, Catholics carry “palaspas” or palm fronds to be blessed by the priest. Many Filipinos bring home the “palaspas” after Mass and place these above their front doors or windows, believing that doing so can ward off evil spirits.

Holy Monday marks the beginning of the “Pabasa” (reading) or the “Pasyon”, the marathon chanting of the story of Jesus’ life, passion, and death, which continues day and night, for as long as two straight days.

Holy Thursday tradition is the “Bisita Iglesia” (church visit), which involves visiting a church or several churches at which the faithful would pray the Stations of the Cross. Holy Thursday usually includes a reenactment of the Washing of the Feet of the Apostles. This Mass is followed by the procession of the Blessed Sacrament before it is taken to the Altar of Repose.

Good Friday, is observed with street processions, the Way of the Cross, the commemoration of Jesus’ seven last words (Siete Palabras) and a Passion play called the “Sinakulo”. The faithful are urged to keep a solemn and prayerful disposition through Black Saturday.

Easter Sunday celebrates "pasalubong", a reenactment of the Risen Christ's meeting with His Mother at the church patio under a specially prepared arch. An angel then descends from the platform and lifts the mourning veil of the grieving Mother amidst the pealing of bells.

Then And Now

To some level, Holy Week in the Philippines is no longer holy as I experienced in the past. It is now different than it was 20 years ago. Nowadays, Holy Week is a chance to get away from the city, go to the beach and hang out since it’s also the start of the hot summer season and school vacation. People are happier to have holidays so they can party, travel or do other things.

I am sure there are some who spend their time solemnly and religiously, but I don’t think it’s the majority any more.

Holy Week And Tourism
In some parts of the Philippines, Holy Week has become a kind of street theater for tourists (multiple crucifixions, marathon chants and a countless of flagellants). This week-long scene draws thousands of participants, as well as fascinated spectators.

Holy Week in The Philippines must be seen to be believed. Every miracle, action and person that features in the Bible's portrayal of Christ's final seven days finds expression somewhere in a Filipino Holy Week celebration.

It would be a truly one of a kind experience for a tourist to observe the Filipino’s celebration of Holy Week.

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