By Oscar A. Macanan Jr. 2bU! Correspondent
(This article was originally published on PDI)
It’s true that most of us look forward to Holy Week spent under the sun in a beach resort somewhere. But if I were given the option on how and where to spend my vacation, it would be always to recharge my spirituality by attending a traditional Filipino prusisyon, and, of course, to spend it with my family.
Unlike your regular urbanite who’s out for a good time on a religious weekend, this party person heads out to his mom’s hometown of Calumpit, located just a few kilometers from Bulacan’s capital of Malolos. Each visit to this quiet, rural town by the river brings out memories of pure nostalgia. In short, nothing but good memories that have left me with a happy and contented childhood to remember: delicious foods like garlic-laden pork longganisa; loud and spirited family get-togethers at my lola’s house; and of course, the traditional Good Friday procession that has been part of the town’s proud history.
The prusisyon is an annual event that brings together several karosa that display scenes from the Passion and Death of Christ. While majority of the townsfolk are reduced to mere observers during the event itself, our family has played the active role of preparing a karosa that will take part in the procession.
The tie that binds.
The whole can usually spends a good part of the weekend preparing for Prusisyon. The “Poon”, an antique statue showing Christ after He had been taken down from the Cross and prepared for burial, is removed from its wooden shrine. This priceless heirloom has been with my mom’s family for generations. An equally antique, glass-paned wooden shrine has served as the statue’s keeping place and the carriage’s main body.
It’s one of the few occasions that my lola’s home would come alive with so much activity. Every year, my cousins take out and sort the artificial flowers to be used for decorations. After a year of spending time stored in boxes, the flowers are cleaned and inspected for defects, then hanged in wires placed in the middle of the house’s great living area.
I would always help my dad placing the lamps that would light the carriage carrying the Poon. I would check out the electrical wiring that runs along the shrine’s crevices. After making sure everything is in order, my cousins and my tito would usually help place the other lights.
The family affair doesn’t end in the busy living room, though. The kitchen plays witness to the family’s chef extraordinaire (mom and all my titas), whipping up huge batches of homecooked cuisine that would put my self-respecting restaurant to shame.
I would always indulge myself in hefty servings of rellenong bangus, lapu-lapu and pancit that are on the table. If I’m lucky enough though, maybe my cousins have left me some puto, kutsinta or sapin-sapin. I would wash them down with fresh fruit juice for dessert. Sometimes, I would find out that there’s still room for a cup or two of refreshing halo-halo.
The Friday rush.
Spending overnight out of the city seems to nudge everyone to be up and awake for anther busy Good Friday. A hearty breakfast courtesy of the family’s culinary masters perks everyone up for the big day ahead. It’s about 6 a.m. right now, and everyone has until noon to finish the carriage in time for the afternoon procession.
Good Friday morning here starts like this every year. Every able-bodied male in the family and the surrounding neighborhood would come and help lift the carriage’s body in the living room, carefully moving it through the second-floor window, and then carry the thing on top of the carriage’s under belly which houses the wheels. Everyone, including some friends and neighbors, get into this proud moment of the classic bayanihan spirit we Filipinos are well known for.
From that moment on , the seemingly frantic activity of fixing up the karosa spills out from the living room and into the streets.
Most of the work involves cutting up bamboo into thin sticks. This would later be nailed and formed into the undercarriage to form a frame holding the multi-layered mantle that serves as its cover.
Most of my titos would use nails and industrial staples to arrange the flowers along the carriage’s narra body. The theme behind the decoration was formed the night before, after much brainstorming among the elders of the family. Plastic strings secure the bamboo.
After the elaborate flora has been placed around the carriage, metal wires would be used to hold the electrical tubing gripping the outer lamps. The lighting itself has been designed to be both decorative and practical: the bulbs are covered by black velvet shades that symbolize the tragedy that was Christ’s death. The golden lining that serves as the lampshade’s lone design, on the other hand, tells of Christ’s victory over death on Easter Sunday. Snack would be bought down at regular intervals for the hungry laborers. After all, it takes hundreds of flowers, more than a dozen technical lightings, and hearts of gold to make this year’s karo special.
A full moon night.
Later in the afternoon, the local townsfolk would head to Calumpit’s lone parish church. They would attend the 3 p.m. Mass. About that time, too, everyone will dress up for the procession.
At this time, every carriage that’s going to join the procession would be ready. Like our family ‘s karosa, they would be adorned with fresh flowers and lamps lighted by gasoline-fed electric generators.
The church bells are rung to signal the end of the Mass. That’s when 12 of the town’s men, symbolizing the Apostles, are given the task of pulling the carriage that contains Christ’s body. The procession itself would start from the parish grounds, with carriages from other household leaving at regular intervals.
Every carriage has its own act to follow, a piece of the story depicting Christ’s suffering and death. Familiar scenes like Jesus carrying the Cross on His way to Calvary, one of the wailing women of Jerusalem holding up the cloth bearing the image of the suffering Christ, and the Crucifixion animate the darkness of night.
The procession itself goes on without a hitch. Everybody in this town has come out wearing his or her Sunday best to join the procession. Those who have chosen to stay in their homes the whole town isn’t left out either. Houses that line the procession’s path are dotted with people holding up lighted candles. Laity unite with the religious in reciting the rosary. Men, women and children cling to each carriage’s side to help it move along.
In streets where electrical lighting is impossible, the faithful on both sides of the path provide observers a wave of flowing, living fire with their candles—an imposing sight with the numerous balete trees in the background. And did I mention a full moon that’s made even brighter by the absence of glaring city lights?
Sad to say, the serenity of the whole thing breaks up just as when the procession nears the church again. Toward the end, a mob has started to form around the carriages containing the fresh flowers. People would push to gain position to reach and grab the flowers that adorn the carriages.
We would try to protect the carriage from the wave of humanity that tries to push the karo. Under a temporary blanket of protection given by local police acting as security, I would help my cousins remove lamps and light bulbs that may be damaged during the foray.
People hold on to the flowers as a souvenir of the procession. Local folks say the flowers hold healing powers and protect the owners from harm, like some kind of an amulet.
With the crowd thinning, everyone in the family helps carry the Poon to the church’s altar. It’s inside the church that Christ would spend the night. In here, devotees from near and far would come and pay their respects, if not relive sacred history.
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