For Pinoys, May is a special month. It's the month for flowers to bloom, and for thanks to be offered to the Virgin Mary. That's why, no matter where you go in the fifth month of every year in the Philippines, you're bound to find a Flores de Mayo celebration.
The name "Flores de Mayo" comes from the Spanish phrase that means "Flowers of May." True enough, there are plenty of flowers — literal and figurative — to go around this time of year. Every town, village, and barangay in the country has its own version of the festival, though the most common traditions are as follows.
Batangas has the most famous version of the luglugan, though other provinces have a similar practice known as novena. Here, devotees make it a nightly habit to visit the nearest image of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and offer flowers and gratitude to her. Afterwards, they flock to the local hermanos/hermanas, and take their share of the treats that signal the start of the nightly Flores de Mayo parties.
Usually, the luglugan lasts for the entire month, and ends with the tapusan — a tradition that we'll discuss in more detail later.
On the 9th day of the Flores de Mayo, a Catholic mass is held to kick off a series of games known as the Palaro. The Palaro aims to highlight native Filipino games, such as hampas palayok (smash the clay pot piñata) and agawang buko (capture the coconut). Prizes are handed out to the winners, followed by a free-for-all lunch sponsored by the local government units and the generosity of the townsfolk.
The Santacruzan (History)
According to legend, Queen Helena (the mother of Constantine the Great) traveled to Jerusalem to search for the Holy Cross. After digging and digging, her group finally found three unmarked crosses. Problem was, they couldn't tell which of the crosses was the Holy cross.
Luckily, the queen had a plan. She ordered a servant (who happened to be ill at the time) to lie down on each of the three crosses. Whichever cross healed the servant would be the Holy Cross. Sure enough, one of the crosses cured the servant's ailment, and so the Santacruzan was held to commemorate the event.
Historians say that the first Santacruzan was held in Malolos, Bulacan. They also say that the Flores de Mayo began when the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was proclaimed in 1854, and when the translation of Mariano Sevilla's Flores de Maria was published in 1867. Regardless of its origins, however, Flores de Mayo is undoubtedly one of the liveliest festivals in the Philippines.
The Santacruzan (Celebration)
Typically, the Santacruzan is held on the last day of Flores de Mayo. The highlight of the event is a procession, which consists of holy figures, rondalla musicians, devotees, and beautiful women in equally beautiful gowns.
The women aren't just for show, though. Each of them represents an important female figure or event in the Bible. For example, the first woman — who comes right behind Methuselah — wears a red gown and carries a triangular yellow flag, symbolizing the birth of Christianity. Most of the women are accompanied by a male partner, plus two people who carry a makeshift arch over the couple.
Since Santacruzan honors Queen Helena, the woman who plays her is considered the most important of all. Her identity isn't revealed until the Santacruzan itself, and she's traditionally the last of the women to show up at the procession. She can be identified by the tiny cross she carries, and by the small boy who accompanies her and represents her son Constantine — the first Christian emperor.
Other Santacruzan Highlights
Once the procession of beautiful women is over, a rondalla follows them to sing to the tune of the Dios Te Salve (Hail Mary). The Dios Te Salve goes like this:
Dios te salve Maria
Llena eres de gracia
El senor es contigo
Bendita tu eres
Entre todas las mujeres
Y bendito es el fruto
Y bendito es el fruto
De tu vientre Jesus.
Santa Maria Madre de Dios
Ruega por nosotros
Y en la hora
De nuestra muerte amen. Jesus
There's also an event called pabitin, which takes place after the procession. Here, a bamboo trellis filled with candies, fruit, and other goodies is dangled over a group of children. The children try to jump as high as they can to grab the goodies, and whoever grabs the most wins the game.
Essentially, the Tapusan (lit. "The End") marks the end of the Flores de Mayo. It's celebrated with one final mass, followed by another luglugan in the house of the hermano for the night. The luglugan lasts until the next day, because Filipino celebrations can never be too long.
Indeed, the Flores de Mayo deserves its title as the "Queen of Festivals." It celebrates not only the blooming of flowers, but also the blooming of women. For more information on festivals like these, stay tuned to our blog!