How we spent our Holy Week Craig Vincent Tibon

How we spent our Holy Week Featured

Semana Santa and the Jewish tradition

WHEN I was in grade school, we were asked to write about how we spent our summer vacation or Christmas holidays and read them out in front of the class. But I couldn’t remember ever having been asked by my teacher how I spent Holy Week. I thought I should begin a tradition among my grandkids, except that in the age of internet and social media, their take on Holy Week would be quite different from mine. To start with, and to broaden their knowledge, I would interject some facets of the commemoration that goes back even farther back than that inscribed in our Christian faith.

As a background, Holy Week is universally observed by all Christian denominations and depicts the Passion of the Christ as witnessed from the New Testament of the Bible. It starts on Palm Sunday recalling the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem, met with palm-waving hosannas. Christ then presided over the last supper with his disciples and proceeded to the Garden of Gethsemane where he prayed and agonized and was subsequently arrested after Judas betrayed him. This is marked on Maundy Thursday – which in the Christian tradition is symbolized by the washing of the feet of the poor. The next day is Good Friday, the Crucifixion of Christ and his death at Calvary.

This year, Good Friday coincided with the Jewish Passover. The latter memorializes the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt and their escape to freedom from the Pharaoh thousands of years ago. The former appears in the New Testament (the Bible) while the latter is in the Old Testament (Torah).

The highlight of the Jewish Passover is the Seder (dinner) which occurs on the first or second night of the Passover. The Seder is an exclusively Jewish festive meal that uses the Haggadah, a book of readings for the Seder service recounting or retelling the Passover story (exodus from Egypt) and features special food and singing of songs. An interesting feature is the asking of the four questions—traditionally asked by the youngest person at the table.

“Ma Nish tana halailah hazeh mikol haleilot’ Why is this night different from all other nights?

On all other nights we eat leavened bread, tonight only matzah;

On all other nights we eat all vegetables, tonight only bitter vegetables;

On all other nights, we don’t dip our food even once, tonight we dip our food twice;

On all other nights we eat sitting, tonight we eat only reclining.

Good Friday is the most solemn day of the Christian Holy Week where Filipinos believe evil spirits have the run of the place. There is something quaint about the way most Filipinos observe Holy Week. In my last column (“Presidential system-patronage politics and political dynasties,” Manila Times, March 28), I wrote about Filipino dualism in our cultural ethos. Our deep faith in our religion, predominantly Roman Catholic, mixed with pagan practices, including venerating nature and the supernatural beings that inhabit them.

In our folklore, the aswang, mananagggal and kapri come out in droves. On this day, we must observe silence. No singing, no music, no loud conversation and no travel. We are not even allowed by our grandparents to take a bath. All the malls and most commercial establishments are closed and Filipinos are expected by the church hierarchy to be confined at home in deep reflection. Many return to their provinces to be with family; and the middle and upper classes will be found in the beaches or out of town on vacation.

But the Holy Week culminates on Easter Sunday. The resurrection of Christ from the dead is the linchpin of Christianity, its core belief – without which Christian faith is meaningless and Roman Catholicism a farce.

Both the Jewish Passover and the Christian Lenten holiday are adjusted by both religions to coincide with early spring, with the Christian belief that the resurrection took place on Sunday, as decreed by the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD (Wikipedia).

Jews do not commemorate Holy Week the way Christians do. But both observe these events based on hope and redemption “…a delivery from a state of despair; for the Jews from slavery in Egypt, and for Christians, from sin.” For the Jews their oppression and the desperate experience suffered in Egypt formed them into a nation. But their God “…imbued them with the national mission to create a body politic of a nobler order…to recall the exodus in dark times nurtured the yearning for a future restoration…(and) Passover heralds the birth of the Jewish people as a force for good in the comity of nations. In contrast, Easter assures the individual Christian life eternal. Passover summons Jews collectively into the world to repair it; Easter proffers a way out of a world beyond repair.” (Wikipedia)

I don’t expect my grandchildren to understand these nuances and write about “what they did during Holy Week”. But I should begin to tell them stories about a man many years ago who died for all of us. I won’t even describe this man as having been nailed to a cross. This would be too gory for them and will give nightmares to my six-year-old Max and four-year-old Javier. In time, they will understand and perhaps write about the Redeemer.

Meantime, we will have them share stories (they can’t write yet) about their happy experiences at the Tokyo Disneyland and Disney Sea and their introduction to sashimi and sushi. Or maybe we will talk about the blooming of the sakura, the cherry blossoms that depict the transient nature of life and its fragility when the blooms fall in so short a time. Perhaps this is an apt digression to the Holy Week narrative of Christ’s passion, love, death and redemption. My grandchildren will be sad, and perhaps begin to learn about death; a safe intro into Christ’s suffering. But not now—only when they’re older.

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