Holy week traditions

My column today, April 5, 2015.

We’ve always made it a tradition to prepare something—a vegetable dish or native delicacy—on Good Friday to share with some of our neighbors in San Andres, Manila. In our hometown in Leyte, this tradition is observed by almost everyone so much so that between 11:00 am and 1:00 pm on Good Friday, the streets would be full of people walking to and fro, with various containers of food in their hands.  This tradition was supposed to have been inspired by the miracle of the Last Supper when bread and fish was multiplied as an act of sharing.  Thus, when families sat down for lunch on Good Friday, they invariably sat down to a feast of vegetable and fish dishes and a selection of delectable desert.  I know—people in other places fast on Good Friday.  To our credit, we can insist that at least the feast is 100% vegetarian.
I haven’t been home for Holy Week for almost a decade already but I have always missed our town’s Good Friday tradition.  I’ve always had this hankering for various types of guinataan and other types of kakanin on Good Friday.  So in the last two years, we’ve been sending out kakanin to our neighbors - just out of habit without really expecting anything in return.  Imagine our surprise last Friday when the neighbors reciprocated.  
I learned, however, while trawling the net that the tradition of sharing food on Good Friday is actually observed in many provinces, although not in an organized way as it is in my hometown.  I noted quite a number of friends posted photos of delicacies (mostly variations of guinataan), which they said they also also shared with their relatives and friends.  I also came across many posts where people reminisced about traditions that marked the way they celebrated the Holy Week in their respective towns and provinces.
When I was growing up, all the boys in our town spent a good part of Good Friday preparing pala-pala, a bamboo instrument that made a loud clacking sound.  It was the sound of the pala-pala that accompanied the Good Friday procession around town.  Visita Iglesia was not yet in vogue when I was growing up, although the different barangays and the various socio-civic and religious organizations took turns doing vigil of the Santo Entierro at the main church.  The whole town would come out barefoot on Black Saturday morning to do the Stations of the Cross all over the poblacion.  A live reenactment of the passion of Christ was part of the activity.
For most of us kids, Easter Sunday was noteworthy for being the day when we finally got to eat meat after one whole week of subsisting on fish and vegetables. For me, however, Easter Sunday held a special significance.  From the time I was four years old up until I was in Grade four, I played a special role in the dawn Easter Sunday salubong (the meeting of the risen Christ and the Virgin Mother).  I was the angel tasked to lift the black veil that shrouded the Virgin Mother and symbolized grief and sorrow.  Once the veil was lifted, a choir of little girls would sing the Regina Coeli and the whole procession would return joyfully to church for the Easter Mass.
The salubong has understandably acquired better production values today thanks to more advanced audio-visual technology as well as pneumatic tools.  The designated angels are now fitted with harnesses, or placed in trucks or forklifts that go up or down easily.  During my time, the whole theatrical production would probably qualify a citation from the Department of Labor for working conditions unsafe for children.  I was either tied to a makeshift swing, or placed inside a basket, or even simply lowered from a balcony window by someone clutching at my garments.  In one occasion, we had to repeat the whole salubong because I accidentally lifted the Virgin’s crown and hair along with the veil.
The Holy Week, which ends today, is not just a religious celebration.  We are all shaped by the many traditions that we were exposed to growing up.  They become part of who we are and will always help explain our current values and beliefs.


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