memoirs of a 1980’s cuaresma

“Hoy, Bawal maglaro sa kalye, patay ang Diyos!”
[“You’re not suppose to play on the streets, Jesus is dead”]
 –Aling Julie (My Mom)

This is the usual image of the holyweek observance in the Philippines. Penitensya is a traditional act of self flagellation as a form of repentance. The origin can be traced back to the colonial era of the country. Now it’s a bizaare spectacle attracting both local and foreign visitors.


Looking back, my personal memory of this occasion is more comical than spiritual.

I grew up in a traditional catholic Pinoy family. We live in a closely knitted extended household, like a clan (more of a tribe in my case). Holy week is something that we strictly observe. It’s an annual tradition taking place during the height of summer (April). Year after year, we do the same thing, same activities, same merienda (snack) recipes, same everything. That’s why it became a subconscious norm. So when I left the town 10 years ago to live independently in Manila, I kinda miss everything about it. The old, rustic, dry nostalgic feel.

I’m not sure today, but during my time, the elders of every town adamantly impose some ridiculous rules on kids during holy week observation. And I vividly remember every bits of details:

RULE 1: You are not suppose to take a bath from Thursday to the eve of Easter. A good excuse for the young dugyot kids to skip the bathing session with the parents. I confess: I used to be one of them.
RULE 2: Practice pesco-vegetarianism for a week. No chicken, no red meat. More of like a metro-sexual diet of every men in the Republic of Fitness First.

RULE 3: Observe Silence. Noise wasn’t tolerated peacefully, specially by the elders, there’s always violence involved if you’re non compliant. Simply because..(you bet) Jesus is dead. I can’t really map-out it’s correlation with shutting up and playing dead on a hot summer day (it could be just another “wag kang maingay, may naglalaba” philosophical scenario).

RULE 4: Kids were not suppose to play outside. Everyone should stay inside the house and pray. Jesus is dead, so wounds won’t heal if we get injured. Yeah, for a kid like me, it’s just another adult reasoning, flat LAME reasoning.

When we were kids, the concept of SPF 50 doesn’t really exist. Oftentimes, I get a dose of nagging session with my mom telling me “amoy araw ka na naman!” (DIRECT TRANSLATION: “you smells like the sun!”) And being the smart Alec that I was, I always sarcastically ask my mom “how on earth she got the chance to smell the sun. Does it even has a scent at all?” … Bloodshed follows.
That made holy week a very sleepy holiday, not to mention the radio stations play eerie instrumental music and television became a visual AM radio station. (Yawn!) My grandparents never allowed us to play outside, not even with my own Lego blocks. All I can do is pray and repent, watch siete de palabras, flying house, Ten Commandments and of course, Eat Bulaga holy week special.

The only consolation for kids like us would be the comfort food served as afternoon snacks. A variety of traditional Filipino rice cakes like, biko, bibingka, puto, sapin-sapin, all those diabetics nightmare. After consuming a plate, we all hit back to a semi-lethargic level of conciousness. No TV,  no running around the house, No internet, no kiddin! With our neighbors’ singing the traditional Pasyon as background music in Dolby Digital surround sound, you can’t blame the kids if we easily fell into coma.