The Philippines is a dominantly Catholic country despite being diverse in religion and culture. Holy Week (which falls on April 13-17, 2022) is the time when most people travel to the provinces to observe its solemnity. It’s common to see devotees and pilgrims busy with preparations for Holy Week activities. With over 7,107 islands divided into 18 regions, there are various methods of observing this cultural period.
Here are a few tips on how one should behave when visiting churches, shrines and other places of worship during this time. It’s aimed at people who are not very familiar with the Catholic faith, while still being able to immerse in the culture and traditions of these destinations.
Is it okay to travel during Holy Week?
By all means, travel to see the beautiful islands and experience the Holy Week traditions of the Filipino people during this time. During this period families come together to prepare for the observance of one of the most significant events of the Catholic faith.
If you look a little closer, these traditions date back to the Spanish colonial era, and the movers of these traditions are the elders who promised to maintain these practices from their ancestors. The relics and figures of saints emerge from the dusty basements for the annual procession to the church.
During your travels, you can experience something unlike anything else you have seen before. In addition, you will be helping the local tourism industry get back on its feet too, after a couple of years of stagnancy.
What do Filipinos eat during Lent?
Lent is the time for sacrifice, as exemplified by the life of Jesus Christ. During this time, the Catholic faith emphasizes penitence. And as much as Filipinos love to eat, here is where sacrifice comes into play. Therefore, it is common for most devotees to practice fasting during this time.
For some, fasting completely may be too extreme and rather go on a restricted diet avoiding anything indulgent. For the week, many people abstain from consuming red meat. They turn to fish and vegetables and avoid alcohol. During this time, you can expect many dishes based on fish, chicken and vegetables.
By the time Easter comes, red meat is permitted to make an appearance once again.
1. Dress modestly when visiting places of worship
During Holy Week, there are a lot of churches, grottos, and shrines that you can visit. While taking photos and videos are allowed, be mindful of what you wear in these places.
Because Holy Week takes place during the summer, it is understood that you also dress to beat the heat. If it cannot be helped, you can still wear breezy fabrics and shorts when you do go around. However, be sure to bring a long scarf to wrap around your waist and avoid strutting around in micro shorts or skirts.
Conservatives still abound in these places, so as a rule of thumb, avoid anything too sexy or showy. Be humble enough to dress appropriately.
Some shrines are situated outdoors, so if by any chance you need to protect yourself from the sun, bring a wide-brim hat. In some instances, there will be souvenir shops that can produce something you need, so checking out what they have never hurt.
2. Avoid side comments and obnoxious behaviour
Filipinos are known to be highly hospitable people, which is why the tourism industry is a major source of income for most populations. Get on their good side and most Filipinos will go the extra mile to make you feel at home.
However, as a guest during Lent, it pays to be respectful. Throughout the country, there are various traditions and practices that vary. On the northern island of Luzon, the senakulo is still widely practised to this day. It is a re-enactment put on by devout locals of the biblical events showcasing the life, trials and ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ as the central figure of the week. It may come as a surprise to foreigners that devotees can complete the whole ordeal up to the actual crucifixion.
It is best to first understand that devotees do everything for the penance of sins, for one reason or another. Thus, avoid throwing side comments and obnoxious behaviour during these times.
Other traditions include the pabasa. The pabasa begins on the morning of Maundy Thursday. It requires the uninterrupted chanting of the Passion of the Christ or Pasyon. It is a 16th-century epic poem in Filipino narrating the life, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The aim is to finish the pasyon by Easter Sunday.
Another method for reparation of sins is the Stations of the Cross. This refers to the series of images depicting Jesus’s stages on the day of his crucifixion and accompanying prayers. It also stemmed from the traditional processional route symbolizing the actual path Jesus walked to Mount Calvary. Also known as the Way of the Cross, it aims to help the Christian faithful to make a spiritual pilgrimage through the contemplation of the Passion of Christ.
Villages all over the Philippines have become sites for the Stations of the Cross, which involve hikes among hills and mountains. It’s also one way to see the Philippine countryside.
3. Book your accommodations in advance
Hotels and homestays can be in high demand during this time, as it is one of the most important religious events of the year. It is wise to book your accommodations in advance and finalize and confirm twice or even thrice. You can call ahead and arrange for any airport or seaport transfer at an extra charge to ensure smooth logistics all throughout your stay.
4. Support the local tourism industry
Be friendly to local transport operators and local guides. You can get good deals through these locals, and you can help the local tourism industry too.
An American tourist went around the island of Camiguin in Southern Philippines and hired a motorela for the day to take her around the waterfalls and cold springs. A motorela is a modified transportation vehicle powered by a motorcycle with a passenger capacity of 6 people. It is widely used in the Ozamis region of the Philippines. The driver got her into these tourist spots at a bargain price, and she was able to get the full local experience.
5. Don’t be disappointed when some establishments are closed during Holy Week
As part of the observation of the Holy Week and fulfilment of penance, most establishments take the time to spend with their family. It also gives the chance for their employees to fulfil their devotion to their respective methods of penance. There may be a number of establishments that close down during Lent, so do not be disappointed when this happens. You can be guided by some announcements on social media in advance.
During Holy Week, everyone is taking it slow and maximizing the time spent with family. You are still permitted to relax and have fun, just be mindful of the solemnity around you. There are many islands and regions to explore in this beautiful country, so take your time and enjoy the sights and sounds. You will surely find a reason to come back.