Santacruzan and Mothers’ Day in the lusty month of May | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

It’s May, it’s May, the lusty month of May. Some sing “the merry month of May.” Whatever, it is the month of flowers and fiestas in the Philippines.

I remember Flores de Mayo. All dressed in white, down to our shoes and calado socks, we brought flowers to church as offerings to Mary. We sang hymns and were treated to merienda. During the war, the tradition continued. But instead of ensaymada, they served us steaming salty-sweet binatog wrapped in banana leaf.

The biggest May event has always been Santacruzan, signaling the end of the novena. In my day, we called it Santa Cruz de Mayo, a tradition handed down by our Spanish colonizers. They say that the first Santacruzan was held in Malolos, Bulacan, in 1865.

Some describe it as a religious/historical beauty pageant. From its simple origins, it has morphed into a big-time presentation starring actors, actresses, beauty queens and other celebrities. It looks more like a fashion show or the red carpet on awards night.

Every girl’s dream

Even the smallest town has at least one procession. Sagalas are chosen from among the prettiest girls in the barrio. The parish priest was once assigned to name the “hermana mayor,” usually the most influential and affluent parishioner. Even today she still foots the bill for musicians, attendants and the sumptuous party that follows, even the pabitin. Did you know that the hermana once also played Reina Elena?

It has been every young girl’s dream to be crowned Reina Elena or Reina de las Flores, or at least to be one of the sagalas. The role of Constantine the Great, Reina Elena’s son, used to be played by a young boy. Lately, however, the part has been taken over by matinee idols. As a result, fans line up for hours ready to mob the procession, robbing it of any trace of religious significance.

About the only thing that remains faithful to the old Santacruzan is the music. They still sing the same melody for “Dios te salve, Maria” in Spanish. Long ago, it was sung by townspeople holding candles, presumably to light the way for the sagalas. Now there are spotlights, recorded music and sometimes a live band riding on the back of a carroza.

I remember participating in a couple of Santacruzans. Once I carried an anchor. I was told it represented Hope. Another time I was “Reina Sentenciada,” the symbol for innocent convicts. I wore a long black dress, my hands tied with a rope, and walked across Jones Bridge barefoot. (No Havaianas at the time.)

Santacruzan commemorates the finding of the Holy Cross by Queen Helena. Three centuries after the death of Christ, in response to prophecies and dreams, she went in search of the true cross. She found three on Calvary and asked her soldiers to lay the body of a dead girl on one of the crosses. When the girl was restored to life, Helena assumed it was the one upon which Jesus had died. She took it to Rome and there was a grand celebration.

No matter how much the Santacruzan has changed, the tradition lives on. It is alive and well in every town and city of every province in the Philippines. It has gone global. In Great Britain, Vietnam, Japan, Italy, Spain, France, from the islands of Hawaii to the eastern seaboard of the United States, wherever there are Filipinos, anywhere in the world, the month of May is Santacruzan time.

As early as January, plans are drawn. Designers sketch lavish gowns and sparkling tiaras. Someone builds arches and pabitins. Musicians are booked; permits solicited.

And then it’s May! Flores de Mayo begins with a flourish. By the time the Santacruzan hits the streets, it is like you never left home.

Cinco de Mayo

In the United States, a close second in color and fanfare is Cinco de Mayo, a historical date for Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. It commemorates the victory of the Mexican army over France in 1862 in the Battle of Puebla. For some unknown reason, it is celebrated more grandly in the US than in Mexico.

It is interesting to note that the cause of that war was Mexico’s default of its debt to European nations. The newly elected Mexican president, Benito Juarez, had taken over the reins of government of a nation in financial ruin. France, Britain and Spain sent their naval forces to demand payment. After negotiations, Britain and Spain withdrew. But France stayed in the fray, which is now known in history books as the Franco-Mexican War (1861-1867).

Sudden thought! If our nation defaulted on its obligations today, would we see a menacing armada on the horizon? Or would our irate creditors simply take a couple of islands?

Cinco de Mayo celebrates the culture and heritage of the huge Mexican population in the US. Mariachi bands and parades cause traffic snarls. Nobody seems to mind. The tempting aroma of tacos, enchiladas and frijoles permeates the festive air. “Una tequilita con cara de doble” is the order of the day.

This year’s damper could be the tension from escalating immigration problems especially in Arizona. The now (in)famous Arizona Senate Bill 1070 has not helped assuage the fears of both legal and illegal immigrants. Over 70 cities have protested its passage in Arizona. On the other hand, many states are contemplating following suit. There is reason to worry.

Tell me

But it’s May, the lovely month of May. It is also the month to honor mothers everywhere in the world.

On television, Hallmark lives up to its motto “Life is a Special Occasion,” and once again touches our hearts.

This year’s Mothers’ Day TV ad speaks eloquently about what every mom wants to hear.

“Tell me that I’ve been a good mom; tell me that I actually taught you something. Tell me that you look up to me; tell me that you are proud of who we are. Tell me that you like spending time with me.”

Tell me. And hear me say: “My cup runneth over.”