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Easter 2018 and 2019

In the Philippines, Easter is celebrated religiously. Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Black Saturday are national holidays to create a 4-day long weekend.

201829 MarThuMaundy Thursday
30 MarFriGood Friday
31 MarSatBlack Saturday
201918 AprThuMaundy Thursday
19 AprFriGood Friday
20 AprSatBlack Saturday

Holy Week arrives on Palm Sunday, and Filipinos carry palm branches to mass to be blessed by priests and taken back home. As Holy Week progresses, great solemnity spreads across the land. Many fulfill vows that they uttered to God in exchange for a favor like recovery from sickness or help during a difficult financial situation. You will also see statues draped in purple to symbolize the gloomy atmosphere, and the most religious Catholics will attend mass daily and fast strictly.

As meat is forbidden during Lent, and especially during Holy Week, fish, eggs, and vegetables are eaten frequently during this time. Some even take up a liquid-only diet or fast from food entirely. Some popular dishes eaten during Lent include: sabaw isda paksiw (sour fish soup), relyenong bangus (stuffed milkfish), fried of sauteed tilapia, sardines on rice, tuyo (dried fish), lumpiang (spring rolls with local vegetable fillings), adobo string beans (instead of pork or chicken), and eggplant omelets.

Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday (Huwebes Santo) is the start of the main Easter celebrations in the Philippines, which is part of the larger Holy Week celebrations. Being a predominantly Roman Catholic country, Easter is central to the religious and national calendar.

According to Biblical tradition, Jesus was crucified on the Cross on a Friday (hence, “Good Friday”), and Maundy Thursday commemorates the events leading up to the Crucifixion.

Maundy (also known as the “Washing of the Feet”) is a religious rite. A re-enactment of the Lord’s Supper and Jesus washing his disciples’ feet are often observed on this day. Filipinos traditionally visit either seven or 14 churches (this tradition is called visita iglesia or “to visit churches”) where this re-enactment is held.

Good Friday

Good Friday, or in Tagalog, Biyernes Santo, is part of the Christian Easter Week celebrations (also known as ‘Holy Week’). Good Friday is two days before Easter Sunday, which normally coincides with the March Equinox and may also coincide with the Jewish Passover.

Good Friday in the Philippines is a national public holiday commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The crucifixion is symbolised by the Cross and, according to the Biblical Gospels, it was by this ancient form of death penalty that Jesus Christ sacrificed himself and died so that he could save humanity from their sins.

Easter is a solemn holiday season and many Filipinos abstain from activities they may deem as ‘worldly’ (e.g. drinking alcohol). On Good Friday, many choose to abstain from eating meat and often pray and fast as part of their religious traditions.

Masses are held in the early afternoon to commemorate and reflect on Jesus’ crucifixion. According to Biblical tradition, Jesus died on the Cross at 3pm, so it is at this time in the mass that people become silent and meditate on Jesus’ sacrificial death.

Catholic Filipinos observe the Stations of the Cross as part of the Good Friday mass. These ‘stations’ are often paintings or sculptures that depict specific moments of Jesus on his way to be crucified. They are also often re-enacted by actors as part of an Easter procession. In the Philippines in particular, some people even go so far as to crucify themselves on a wooden cross to symbolise their devotion, as part of their penance or vow.

Black Saturday

On “Black Saturday,” preparations are made for the late-night Easter vigil at church. There, the Gloria is sung, and some call it “Glorious Saturday.” In some places, an effigy of Judas is hung and burned up, though sometimes, he is blown to pieces by firecrackers. At midnight, the fasting and mourning ends because it is finally the day on which Christ arose from the grave in victory.

A 4am on Easter Morning, the “salubong” ceremony commemorates the meeting of Mary and Jesus after the Resurrection. The black-veiled image of Mary is unveiled by one or more people dressed up like angels, and sometimes, the veil is tied to balloons or a dove to be carried away in the air. The image of Christ also is unveiled, and flowers and confetti fall down on the statues of both Mary and Jesus. Bells ring and fireworks explode in the sky. Legend has it, however, that if the veil is removed only with difficulty, bad luck will accompany the year to come.

Easter Events

Several Easter events you may wish to attend should you be in the Philippines at this time of year are:

  • The flagellant ceremonies in Manila, Pampanga, or Nueva Ecija. The latter two locations involve white hooded flagellants who wear thorny crowns. Blood drips over the white hoods and is clearly visible at a distance.
  • The stations of the cross processions in Novaliches, Quezon City, and Cagayan. These are depictions of the journey to the cross that are built into various hillsides, and pilgrims will pray as they go from station to station.
  • Various Passion plays, particularly the one held in Senakulo at the Philippine Cultural Center. Its cast consists of locally popular movie stars. Also consider the Moriones Festivals in the province of Marinduque, which focuses on the conversion of the Roman Centurion as he gazed on the dying Christ.