Easter in the Philippines is a four-day-long event. It is a large part of Semana Santa which also means Holy Week. Keep on reading to learn more about Filipino Easter traditions and customs.
What is Holy Week in the Philippines
Holy Week consists of Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday, Holy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Black Saturday. It is a time for atonement and is a quiet time for Filipinos. TV and radio stations even go silent.
Some Filipinos take Holy Week very seriously and perform various acts to atone for their sins like fasting and attending church every day. Businesses even tend to close during this time to observe Holy Week.
Sometimes holy rites are performed for those who want to be cured of an illness. Statues are even covered in purple cloth.
Palm Sunday also called Passion Sunday, starts Holy Week at the end of Lent. It symbolizes the day that Jesus entered Jerusalem.
The Philippines inherited this tradition from Spain where Catholics take palm leaves to church to have them blessed by a priest.
There is a Palm Sunday mass and churchgoers wave their palm leaves as the priest enters the church.
Fasting is typically observed during Holy Wednesday and Good Friday. According to the Church, fasting is when you have one meal and two small meals a day.
For those who aren’t fasting, they eat fish instead of meat. Others even switch to a completely liquid diet.
Pabasa ng Pasyon which means “reading of the passion,” is when Catholics read and chant a 16th-century poem called Pasyong Mahal.
Pasyong Mahal is about the life, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The poem is read from Palm Sunday to Maundy Thursday.
The Seven Churches Visitation
Filipinos also practice a Lenten tradition from the 1500s called “Visita Iglesia” also known as “The Seven Churches Visitation.” It is where Catholics visit seven churches. This typically takes place on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.
Maundy Thursday observes Washing of the Feet and the Last Supper. Thursday symbolizes Jesus’ humility through the washing of feet.
On Good Friday, also called Mahal na Araw, Catholics observe the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. It is a day of mourning, meditation, and contemplation.
Religious images are carried through towns and an image of Jesus is veiled in black. Masses are also held that day before 3pm because that is the time that Jesus died. At 3 pm, everything is quiet.
Stations of the Cross
The Stations of the Cross are observed as part of the mass and are depicted in paintings or sculptures. They are about the events that lead up to Jesus’ crucifixion.
The Stations of the Cross consist of:
- Jesus has been condemned to death
- Jesus carries his cross
- Jesus falls the first time
- Jesus meets his mother
- Simon of Cyrene carries Jesus’ cross for him
- Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
- Jesus falls a second time
- The women of Jerusalem cry over Jesus
- Jesus falls a third time
- Jesus is stripped of his clothes
- Jesus is nailed to the cross
- Jesus dies of the cross
- Jesus is taken off the cross
- Jesus is placed into a tomb
Those most passionate participate in a reenactment of the Stations of the Cross.
This is a very popular occasion and thousands of people go to see it. Filipinos act out the suffering that Jesus endured all those many years ago by whipping themselves and even having themselves nailed to the cross.
Holy Week Re-enactment
Some Filipinos even dress as Roman soldiers and they nail volunteers to the cross with three-inch spikes. Others walk through the streets carrying a large heavy cross just as Jesus did.
Some participants wear a crown of thorns even though it is not supported by the Catholic church. The church deems it an event that should not be repeated.
Good Friday is also a day full of superstitions.
Since it is the day that Jesus died for our sins, Filipinos are careful not to get injured because the wounds you incur that day may not heal. Children are told not to play as to not hurt themselves.
Black Saturday is the day Jesus was placed in his tomb. Catholics prepare for the Easter vigil at church. In some areas, a symbol of Judas is hung and burned or torn to pieces with the use of firecrackers. This lasts until midnight where fasting ends.
Easter Sunday is when Jesus rises from his tomb and is alive again.
There is even a ceremony called Salubong, where a veiled woman dresses as Mary and meets Jesus. This commemorates the day the Virgin Mary met her son for the first time after he had risen from the dead.
The veil is then removed by doves or balloons. There is a superstition that if the veil is hard to remove, then there will be bad luck in the next year. The ceremony is followed by firecrackers and a feast. Flower petals are even placed on a picture of the Virgin Mary.
This is a time to rejoicing because Jesus had risen from the dead. Stores re-open this day and Filipinos can now buy food for the feast. Filipinos can now eat meat. Many eat Adobo, Sinigang na Baboy, Pancit, and many other meat dishes.
These Holy Week traditions and celebrations are old and some still follow them.
Nowadays young Filipinos and their families use this time to go on vacation or go to the beach. Some even get married on this day because Easter symbolizes new life.
Other Filipinos even go Easter egg hunting as part of their yearly tradition.