Holy Week: Family and tradition in Castillejos, Zambales – Part 1

For most people, Holy Week is a time for vacations, be they road trips or food trips, beach trips or whatnot. It’s the start of summer, after all, and there are a few days of no work, so why not?

But for my mother’s family, Holy Week is a tradition, one that dates back generations too confusing to count.

In the Philippines, Holy Week is an entire week where Catholics remember the Passion of the Christ: from the Last Supper to the Agony in the Garden, his torture at the hands of the Roman soldiers, the carrying of the Cross, and finally the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. It is a week marked by prayer and contemplation, but also tradition and spectacle, drama and ritual. In towns all over the Philippines, church communities will re-enact various scenes from this period in Christ’s life, from the washing of the feet at the Last Supper to the Crucifixion itself.

In my maternal grandfather’s hometown of Castillejos, Zambales, the tradition most important to us is the Good Friday procession (there’s a pretty good summary of what happens here). It is essentially a funeral procession: since tradition says that the Crucifixion took place at 3:00 in the afternoon, the procession is what happens after Christ’s body has been taken down from the cross, and it to be buried. The figure of Christ that is central to this procession is called the Santo Entierro, and this is my family’s contribution. For many generations, we have had in our care a Santo Entierro.

The Santo Entierro figure, whom we call the Señor, was made in Spain, commissioned by one of our ancestors, and brought to the Philippines. My relatives could never agree on the actual date that the Señor was built, though I seem to remember a document saying it was made in 1870. There was always argument over when the Señor actually arrived in the Philippines as well. To confuse everyone, my brother always jokes that he heard a legend, that the Señor was found by our ancestors floating in a nearby river, and that this is how we became custodians to the Santo Entierro.

While the genesis of the tradition remains in question, I can say with certainty that it has been in my family for at least three generations. I remember my mother telling me about my grandfather leaving Manila for Castillejos a week or two before Good Friday, in order to take care of preparations. This included opening up the house, going to the market to make sure there was enough food for everyone, buying the flowers for the Señor’s carriage, hiring a band for the procession.

It was such a large family affair. My mother remembers going there with her six siblings, and all their cousins, and spending a few days in Castillejos before and after the procession. On Good Friday, no meat would be served. Children were discouraged from playing, laughing, roughhousing. No loud music or noise, aside from the pasyon or pabasa, where some faithful sat in our chapel, reading of the life of Christ. Relatives and help would prepare merienda by 3pm, usually pancit, so that those attending the procession could eat first.

The band would arrive by 5pm, as would volunteers dressed as the 12 apostles, to accompany the Señor to the church, where the procession would begin.

Stay tuned for Part 2.

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