Filipino Holy Week Traditions
The Philippines is a predominantly Christian country. In a country where more than 80 percent of the population is Catholics, Holy Week is a tradition that is strictly observed. With most businesses and establishments closed down, major cities turn into something that resembles a ghost town. The streets are mostly deserted, business centers are eerily quiet, and hardly anyone goes out. For Filipinos, Holy Week is a time of reflection and penitence.
Here are some of the Holy Week traditions Filipinos commonly practice:
Palm Sunday commemorates the arrival of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem for the Passover. According to the Bible, Christ and His disciples were welcomed by people waving large palm leaves.
During Palm Sunday, Filipinos bring weaved palm leaves or palaspas to church. The palaspas are blessed by priests before or after mass. Filipinos believe that palaspas can ward off evil when hung on windows and doors.
Pabasa ng Pasyon
Pabasa ng pasyon, simply known as pabasa, is described by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines as an “epic poem in stanzas of five lines of eight syllables.” Pasyong Mahal, the book used during pabasa, is written is rhythmic old Tagalog. Instead of being read, it is usually sung a cappella or chanted in a slow, mellow, and monotonous tone. The whole book is commonly read without any interruption.
Pabasa is traditionally done between the first Sunday of Lent and Good Friday. It is usually carried out in houses or chapels. The hosts and organizers of pabasa would commonly create a makeshift altar with statues and images of Christ.
Visita Iglesia involves visiting several churches on Holy Thursday or Good Friday. Church goers would either recite the Stations of the Cross or pray on their own. Filipinos who practice Visita Iglesia often visit seven churches. Some visit 14 churches to signify the 14 Stations of the Cross.
Click here to learn more about the Catholic churches in Australia.
Fasting and Abstinence
Devout Catholics often reduce their food intake to one meal per day during Holy Week, while others avoid eating meat. Nowadays, fasting doesn’t only involve food. Filipinos fast by giving up a habit, such as smoking or drinking alcohol, as a sign of sacrifice.
Growing up in the Philippines, I am not a stranger to many of the Filipino Holy Week traditions. I grow up listening, and eventually participating, to pabasa. I practiced Visita Iglesia with my family. And I had avoided taking baths on Good Fridays for fear of losing my anting-anting’s power. Kidding aside, the Holy Week traditions I grew up with have become a part of me and needless to say, have helped shaped me to become the person I am today.
What Holy Week traditions did you participate in while in the Philippines? What traditions do you still practice now that you’re here in Australia?