Of course, that's not the only way Filipinos celebrate Lent. Until the season ends on April 15, 2017, here's how Asia's only predominantly Christian nation will celebrate the next 46 days.
Fasting (in one way or another)
As early as today, restaurants will be advertising their "Lenten specials," or foods allowed during Lent. That's because many Catholics fast on Ash Wednesday, not to mention all the Fridays until Lent ends.
However, less traditional Catholics fast only on certain days, such as Good Friday. Some families even exempt their children from fasting, under the pretext that little bodies need more nutrition to grow. (That's certainly true.) Once the children come of age, however, they'll be expected to follow Lenten traditions like their elders do.
Taking a vacation
In the Philippines, Maundy Thursday up to Easter Sunday are considered holidays. During this period, Filipinos take time off from work and pour into the provinces in droves, hoping to catch up on quality time with their families. That's why PUV terminals get extremely crowded around this time of year, causing savvy passengers to book their trips way ahead of Holy Week.
Also, Metro Manila becomes a "ghost town" during Semana Santa, partly because many Manileños are based in the provinces, and partly because Holy Week is a great excuse to get away from the harried demands of urban living. A few choose to have a "staycation," and if you happen to be staying in Manila during Holy Week, here's a quick guide to enjoying your stay.
Festivals, processions, and other celebrations
Not all Holy Week traditions are created equal. Even within the same province, Lenten customs differ from one place to another. For example, in Rizal province, Cainta residents celebrate by performing a Passion play, while the men of Taytay show their devotion by testing their anting-anting (talismans or amulets) against dangerous objects like guns and knives.
Some Holy Week practices are more extravagant than others. The Moriones Festival of Marinduque, for instance, highlights participants dressed as Roman soldiers and Syrian mercenaries. These participants re-enact the Calvary of Christ, as well as scare children and perform antics throughout the Holy Week.
A few Holy Week traditions are, shall we say, peculiar to the Philippines. In San Fernando, Pampanga, devotees are notorious for flagellating and crucifying themselves every Semana Santa. Despite the obvious dangers of this practice, the San Pedro Cutud Lenten Rites persist year after year, with many devotees being repeat participants.
Other Holy Week traditions in the Philippines include the senakulo, Turumba Festival, and Black Nazarene procession. To learn more about them, click here.
Even though they've been colonized by foreigners for centuries, Filipinos never completely let go of their pre-colonial customs. Some of these customs, like the Holy Week superstitions unique to the Philippines, continue to this day, such as:
- Don't get injured on Holy Week.
- Don't take a bath after 3 PM on Good Friday.
- Don't eat meat on Good Friday. (Some extend this as far back as Maundy Thursday, or even Ash Wednesday.)
- Don't make noise during Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.
- Circumcision can be done on Black Saturday, but not on any other Holy Week day.
As you can see, many of these superstitions can seem unnecessary, or even absurd, from an outsider's point of view. But if following these superstitions means good luck for devotees (or, at least, no harm done to them), then it won't hurt to believe, right?
Every Maundy Thursday or Good Friday, Filipinos visit seven churches to pray. Some visit as many as 14 churches — both to honor the 14 Stations of the Cross, and to maximize the Visita Iglesia.
If you want to participate in this time-honored tradition, but aren't sure which churches to visit, you can log on to the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines' Visita Iglesia website. The website also allows you to stream masses live, in case you're unable to perform the Visita Iglesia for any reason.
During Holy Week, devotees flock to churches to chant and sing the Passion of Christ. The traditional pabasa divides the participants into two groups, who alternately sing the Passion's lines or stanzas. Some churches set the chanting to the tune of pop songs to make them more appealing to a younger audience.
In some provinces, the Lenten season is capped off with a salubong, the Filipino word for "to meet." Here, an image of the Virgin Mary is draped with a black veil called lambong to represent her mourning over the death of her son Jesus. Then, she and an image of Jesus are carried in a procession from opposite ends of a community. Eventually, the two meet (hence the name "salubong"), and an "angel" lifts up Mary's veil so she can "see" Jesus one last time.
Catholicism may not be unique to the Philippines, but Philippine Catholicism is certainly unique. As long as the above traditions are kept alive, Filipinos can be proud of their own take on the world's largest religion.