Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Holy Week in the Philipinnes

In the US the year-end holiday season incorporates a variety of religious holidays and also celebrates the changing of the year. The Holidays are celebrated by Americans of all faiths for the season's abundance of parties, gifts, food, and a few days off from work. Despite being a predominantly Catholic country, the same is true for the Philippines. In fact, I felt that the culture of Christmas gift giving was even more pressured here than in the US.

This week is Holy Week, and my first experience of a nationwide religious celebration. Last Sunday the streets were filled with vendors selling palm fronds, and Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are non-working holidays honored by nearly all businesses. In contrast, many working Filipinos do not  have Christmas Day off. My driver is celebrating his four day weekend by taking a family trip to his home province, and it is very rare that his adult daughter and son, who work in a call center and a mall, respectively, get time off from work.

Holy Week in the Philippines is known for its Good Friday processionals that feature penitents engaging in self-flagellation and, in Pampanga, crucifixion. Locals and Wikipedia tell me that such practices are strongly discouraged by the Church, but those who practice self-flagellation view it as a form of devout worship. My driver tells me that the person selected to be crucified in Pampanga campaigns to be chosen, and is usually someone who believes that he has sinned and needs to be reborn in his devotion to Jesus. The crucifixion lasts for about an hour, and is hopefully carried out by someone with darn good aim. The Philippine Department of Health encourages tetanus shots.

A 2006 devotional crucifixion in Pampanga

In Manila, the city shuts down on Thursday and Friday, the radio stations suspend regular programming, and many people leave town. I've heard that there will be several processionals here in town. The processionals are bloody affairs, as you can see for yourself if you Google images of Holy Week in the Philippines.
I don't anticipate being anywhere near a crucifixion, but I am finding this experience interesting. Like many other cultural experiences in the Philippines, Holy Week feels familiar, and yet so different from my experiences in the US.

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