Of customs and traditions

Good Friday procession in Malabon City, Metro Manila.
I went home today, to share with my son a part of my childhood: the customs and traditions in my 400-year-old plus city, a town so old it was mentioned by Rizal in his Noli Me Tangere.
We arrived before 5 p.m., just in time to join the Good Friday procession. It’s like a re-telling of the Crucifixion, done through life-size images of the saints, I had told my son.
Mater Dolorosa
The procession was one of the traditions of Good Friday: the long wait for the procession to pass, if one was watching instead of joining, and then the stories about the saints, retold and remembered as they passed in front of us. There was St. Peter leading the procession, always easy to identify because of the cock. St. Veronica, who wiped the face of Christ with a handkerchief, and was surprised to see his face imprinted on it. The “Tres Marias” — the three Marys of Christ — dressed in black, and mourning, after the Crucifixion. Mary at the foot of the cross, cradling Christ’s bloodied body, and last of all, the Santo Intierro, Christ in a casket, making the procession a march for the dead.
The Santo Intierro
Though it was Good Friday, the procession was never sad. It was a chance to meet up with old friends, who were either part of the procession or in the crowd, and to talk to relatives, who would come home just to join or watch the procession. It was part of what defined Holy Week.

The other was the Pasyon. When I was growing up, we could tell Lent had begun because of the Pasyon: a re-telling of Christ’s passion and crucifixion, often done by old women and men. There would be one or two at the start of Lent, but by Holy Monday the chanting would be non-stop, and coming from all directions. It would stop at 3 p.m., the time when Christ was supposed to have died on the cross. After a week of non-stop chanting, the silence was palpable. Christ was dead.
The apostoles, the 12 disciples of Christ, walk in the procession.
And then we would join the procession, as festive and noisy as any Filipino wake. Black Saturday was an in-between day, spent in anticipation of Easter Sunday, when we would wake early to watch the Salubong, when the Risen Christ meets his mother Mary. Once, we woke up late and tried to catch up with the early morning procession. We knew it was over even before we got to the site, because we could see the white balloons that were released after Christ had lifted Mary’s veil and then rose to Heaven.

When I was growing up, we had calendars and clocks but they never ruled our lives. We knew it was full moon because of the high tide; we knew when Lent had begun because of the chanting that filled our nights. I took them all for granted when I was growing up but now, living in a city where having a Pasyon is actually a barangay project instead of a family tradition, I realize how colorful my childhood was.


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