By Manny Villar
This coming Palm Sunday will mark the beginning of Holy Week. For a predominantly Catholic nation like the Philippines, this will usher in traditional commemorations of a very significant event in Christendom.
I remember very well scenes and images from my childhood about “semana santa,” a period when the entire nation seems to fall silent in contemplation.
You could not find any programs on TV except reruns of the movies “The Ten Commandments” with Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner and “Spartacus” with Kirk Douglas. You could also watch live telecasts of the reenactment of the Washing of the Feet as well as the “Siete Palabras” or the Seven Last Word of Jesus from the Cross. On the radio, you could hear only somber music or in most cases, the static sound of stations off air.
Restaurants, cinema houses, and shopping centers were closed. There was absolutely no traffic in Metro Manila. The Philippines was in virtual shut down for holy week. It was meant to encourage people to appreciate silence and use that for introspection—reflecting on the passion of Christ and one’s own life.
The only music you could hear was the Pabasa ng Pasyon. Wherever you went, you would hear singing, chanting, and wailing of the story of Jesus Christ’s suffering. The voices were haunting and sublime. This was a Filipino Holy Week tradition that I like very much and I think is being practiced less and less nowadays.
In lieu of movies, one could watch a “Senakulo” at night. The “Senakulo” is a stage or street play about the life and passion of Christ. Many families also performed the “Visita Iglesia” where they visit churches and pray in each the Stations of the Cross.
Then there was Easter Sunday and the “Salubong.” The Pasko ng Pagkabuhay commemorates and reenacts the resurrection of Christ.
Times have changed, of course. Today, during Holy Week several TV networks and cable stations continue with their programming. And with the advent of Youtube, Netflix, and other streaming services, people have more options to while away the time during Holy Week.
Most malls are closed on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday but a number of restaurants remain open to accommodate the crowds on “Visita Iglesia.”
Metro Manila is still seemingly on lockdown mode because most families are away on vacation. Popular destinations like Baguio, Tagaytay, Boracay, Batangas, and the like are choked with vacationers escaping the capital. I am told that hotel occupancy even in Manila is full because of families who prefer to have a “staycation” instead of going out of town. This makes good sense as highways going out of Manila usually experience heavy traffic.
Things have definitely changed because of the advent of new communications technology, changes in the attitudes of young people and cultural transformations. Old traditions are usually the first ones to give way to modernity.
But I hope the spirit behind Holy Week remains. It is a time for reflection and introspection. It is also a good time to rejuvenate our spirits and rededicate ourselves to our life purpose. At the very least, we can use this time as a way to renew our bonds with our family and loved ones. Sometimes, as we work hard and face life’s challenges we forget why we do these things. As we focus on our day-to-day existence, we tend to lose sight of the people that matter to us.
It might be more difficult now with all the noise and distractions but our body and soul need it. After all, just like our computers and smartphones, we need rebooting once in awhile.