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Only In The Philippines: Holy Week Pre-1990s

Updated on March 18, 2016
 First Mass in the Philippines (Easter Sunday, the year 1521)
First Mass in the Philippines (Easter Sunday, the year 1521)

A Little Backgrounder

On March 17 1521, Spanish Conquistadors stumbled upon a few eastern islands that is now part of the island nation called the Philippines. This was followed by several other incursions where they claimed the islands and its inhabitants for Spain.

This was also when they introduced Catholicism to the local inhabitants.

Today the island nation is home to over 80 million Roman Catholics, but whose Catholicism might not seem typical to most Catholics else where in the world. Let's see why.

Note: It is also not an exaggeration that Roman Catholicism have shaped how the Philippines have evolved to be what it is now, and that it continues to shape every facet of the Filipino life and everything that is taking place in the country until this day.

Good Friday Observance, Pampanga, Philippines
Good Friday Observance, Pampanga, Philippines


This is the Third on an ongoing Series about the Philippines.

And specifically this is about what can presumably be found ONLY IN THE PHILIPPINES.

Back In The Day

To some body born in or after the 1990s, even in the late 80s, it might not seem believable that just before or around the time they were born, people in the Philippines (or most every where else for that matter) have done things very much like how people would have done it a hundred years ago.


Think about it, before the 90s there were only a handful of TV channels in the country, its not HD and they weren't broadcasting 24/7.

Around the midnight hour TV stations would "sign-off" for the night, every night and they would resume programming early the next morning -- meaning there was nothing to watch on TV in the early morning hours.


Yes, it was hard to imagine but there was no cable television, no Netflix, no internet, no WIFI, no cell phones, no smart phones, no tablets, no apps, no text, no email, no chat, no Google, no SIRI, no selfies, no streaming, no Facebook, no Youtube, no Twitter, no Instagram, no Skype, no none of that.

San Agustin Church
San Agustin Church
Manila Cathedral
Manila Cathedral

Holy Week Back In The Day

Now, imagine Holy Week as a week that is even more somber than that -- meaning, even in the daytime there were no shows on TV. If there were, it would have been a few old worn out biblical films.


Most cinema houses (theaters) were closed. If you can find an open one, it would surely be showing more of the ancient bible movies, some in black and white, and most were 6 hours long and have bad sound and effects.


There will be no entertainment, no concerts, no professional sports, no amusement parks and no where to go. Stores, shops, restaurants and malls were closed.

Most people, especially those in the cities, would go back to their ancestral homes for it was a long National Holiday. For a few days, the cities will be almost like ghost towns and the streets will be deserted, yes one could literally lie down on the streets.


People would fast and abstain from certain foods, some they wouldn't normally eat anyway. And it is generally frowned upon to be happy, laugh or play games or horse around. On Good Friday, one shouldn't even take a shower!

No Beef, No Pork, No Chicken
No Beef, No Pork, No Chicken
San Agustin Church in Manila
San Agustin Church in Manila

What To Do Then

Ash Wed

So aside from getting "ashed" on Ash Wednesday, which would typically be universally practiced by all Catholics, people are expected to look "pious" and act somber during the Lenten season. Fasting would start on this day and during all Fridays of Lent.

Palm Sun

On Palm Sunday (Linggo ng Palaspas), the faithful would either make or buy decorated palm branches and bring them to church to be sprinkled with holy water.

Holy Thurs

On Holy (Maundy) Thursday, churches would open their doors and the pious would visit several churches (seven is the magic number) in what is called the "Visita Iglesia" (literally church visit).

Most people who do these Holy Week church visits, do so by meditating, holding a moment of silence, or praying on each of the 14 Stations of the Cross, which are spread out inside the churches.

Some churches would practice the reenactment of the Washing of the Feet, the Last Supper, the Seven Last Words and other famous events leading to the crucifixion of Jesus. All towns have their own religious processions where statues are paraded across town, as people watch on the sidewalks.

Other towns have their observances of the Stations of the Cross outside of the churches in their version of the "Via Dolorosa", also a reenactment of final moments of Jesus.

Good Fri

On Good Friday, the faithful would practice the "Pabasa" or the reading of the Passion of Christ, a very long centuries old epic poem depicting the suffering Jesus had to go through. These readings would go on for a long time, sometimes until early Easter Sunday, and devotees would have to take turns reading the lines in a singing style that goes back hundreds of years.

Also, even though the church doesn't really endorse it, many of the religious, still practice barbaric acts of cleansing or penance through self flagellation, carrying wooden crosses, crawling or walking on ones knees, being strapped to and even actually being nailed to a wooden cross.

Black Sat

Black Saturday, often is a dark day of silence or mourning and is probably the most somber day of the year.

Easter Sun

Easter or Resurrection Sunday is the day that everything goes back to normal. Early in the morning, there would still be processions for each town, and then businesses will open and people can start to eat whatever they want and smile and laugh again. People will be trekking back to the cities and Monday will be worse than the Monday after Spring Forward Sunday.

One last thing, Good Friday is also the day when amulets (agimats, bertuds at anting-antings) are made or obtained. It is believed, that no other day, are these charms and occult objects stronger than on this day.

Cebu Cathedral, Cebu City
Cebu Cathedral, Cebu City
Paoay Church, Ilocos Norte
Paoay Church, Ilocos Norte

Photo Credits:

Wikimedia Commons (fair use), Carlos V. Francisco's First Mass in the Philippines;

Wikimedia Commons, Good Friday Observance, Jonund;

Wikimedia Commons, Judgefloro;

Wikimedia Commons (fair use) Cebu Cathedral, NFCC;

Wikimedia Commons, Paoay Church, Jojo Deladia


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