Of Crocodile Meat and Semana Santa in the Philippines
I woke up to the eerie sound of women chanting. I slowly opened my eyes, half expecting a scene from a horror movie. Then, I remembered. It was Sunday—Palm Sunday, to be exact—and the start of Holy Week.
This was more than 20 years ago. But the traditions that were part of my Filipino upbringing and ingrained in my childhood remain fresh in my mind. My lola was a devout Catholic. For several years, the neighborhood pabasa were held at home. Her family being involved in the practices and traditions of the Catholic Church meant the world to her.
For our family, the Holy Week would start with a Palm Sunday mass. It was always a sight to see: dozens of intricately weaved palaspas spread on the church’s sidewalk. But it was the smell that I remember the most—the sweet smell of fresh palms combined with the smell of candles and burnt incense. My nanay would then hang a couple of blessed palaspas on our front door. “To keep bad luck and evil spirits at away,” she would always say.
As a child, Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays were pretty uneventful during Holy Week. My lola’s friends would come over for the pabasa. Us, kids, were often told to stay inside and listen. (Can you imagine how terribly boring that was for five to ten-year-old kids?) We weren’t allowed to play outside. Many Filipinos believe that a wound sustained during the Holy Week would take forever to heal, so playing on Holy Week was a big no-no for my mom.
During Holy Thursday and Good Friday, we would hear mass and go on Visita Iglesia. There weren’t that many churches in our place, so it wasn’t really possible to visit at least seven churches. We did try to go to as many as we can. Afternoons were spent preparing for the Biyernes Santo prusisyon. The prusisyon was always extremely long and arduous, but there was something about it that never failed to fascinate me. The karwahes that were graciously adorned with hundreds of flowers, the numerous candles that lit the night, the singing and the chanting of prayers, the statues that depicted the events during the crucifixion of Christ—all of these lent an air of inviolability.
Growing up in a far-flung province, there were no Easter egg hunts on Easter Sundays. Saturdays and Sundays were a time for reflection. They were spent for rest and with the family.
On a different note, my nanay used to horde on fish and seafood before the Holy Week. Since their prices would sometimes double during the Holy Week, she would buy them days before and keep them inside the freezer. Tuyo and paksiw were a Holy Week staple.
I was looking for dishes to prepare during the Holy Week, when I came upon this. Apparently, crocodile and alligator meat are considered seafood and can be eaten during the Lent. Hmm… I probably need to perfect the art of cooking crocodile meat, first.