La Semana Santa (Holy Week) Celebration practices here and around the world

The Philippines, being the only Christian nation in South East Asia is the only one who celebrates Holy Week or Semana Santa. The practice dates back as early as 1500’s and was brought here by the Spaniards when the Philippines was canonized. According to Degayo, E. (personal correspondence, March 2018), although in essence it was truly a celebration revered in Spain, the tradition was used to solidify Catholic foothold and was essential in rallying our ancestors into following the Christian faith and ridding us of any remaining connection to our non-Christian practices.

Procesión del Encuentro – The Encounter Procession in Valladolid, Spain. (Courtesy:  as cited in
Procesión del Encuentro – The Encounter Procession in Valladolid, Spain
(Courtesy: as cited in

Just as practiced in Spain, the celebration last for an entire week, which culminates on Easter Sunday. The essence of Holy Week celebration in Spain is a little different in terms of its core principle. For starters, processions during the Holy Week being held in Spain commemorates among others the brotherhoods and fraternities that were borne during the liberation of the City of Seville by King Fernando III in the mid 1200 ( . During that time, many brotherhoods and fraternities were founded which were responsible in helping and rescuing people caught in the war.

Lenten Procession in Madrid, Spain (Courtesy:
Lenten Procession in Madrid, Spain

The fraternities continue to persist up to now and during the parade on Good Friday, they commemorate and celebrate the roots of their brotherhood. Here in the Philippines, the existence of such fraternities that has been borne from the ashes of war does not exist, but rather, the Holy Week celebration is centered on the passion of Christ and the eternal gratitude of Filipinos in the saving grace of Christ’s passion and sacrifice.

In Mexico, like in the Philippines, the celebration of Holy Week also centers on Christ’s passion and love. People usually take time to go on vacation and hold reunions. They also have reenactments of Jesus’ life and passion which is similar to our Senakulo (from the Spanish Cenaculo), which is a “Lenten play that depicts events from the Old and New Testaments related to the life, sufferings, and death of Christ” (

Penitensya (Courtesy:

Their own version of Easter eggs is called cascarones or colored egg shells filled with confetti which are usually broken on someone’s head which is a sign of affection. The practice was believed to have originated in China. Back in the day, it was usually filled with perfumed powders making them popular among women. The practice was believed to have been brought to Europe by Marco Polo from China. In Mexico, it was introduced in the 1860’s by the wife of Emperor Maximiliano of Spain. But the perfumed powder was replaced by confetti.

Cascarones (Courtesy:

Here in Philippines, instead of hooded fraternity participants doing the procession, people actually join the procession together with the parade of floats of different saints. Furthermore, other than the traditional Senakulo plays happening everywhere, Pabasa ng Pasyon which is a religious ritual chanting the words from the Pasyon, a narrative book that contains the life of Christ, usually starts during Holy Tuesday and culminates on Good Friday. During the Pabasa, the participants take turns in chanting the lines of the entire book mimicking the rhythm of some church songs. It is sometimes accompanied by any instrument possible.  Though nowadays, some people add a more upbeat tune to the practice which draws younger participants to join. Other activities include Visita Iglesia which is the practice of visiting seven (7) or 14 churches. The pilgrimage commences in the late afternoon or early evening of Holy Thursday after the Mass of the Last Supper and culminates on the Easter mass celebration.  It was believed to be brought and introduced here by the Augustinian friars ( in the 1500’s. The practice signifies that a person is accompanying Jesus through his passion. Although there is no prescribed prayer for the Visita Iglesia, the Augustinian priests who introduced the practice prescribes that a penitent prays the Via cruci or 14 stations of the cross, that would mean two (2) stations per church if you are visiting seven (7) churches and one (1) station per church if you are visiting 14 churches. Other practices done in the Philippines during the Lenten celebration include self flagellation, actual crucifixion all anchored on sharing in Christ’s passion and show gratitude for granting us salvation from our sins.



Cascarones. Retrieved from

O’Flynn, D. (2017). Celebrating Semana Santa: Easter in Spain. Retrieved from

Olivera, M. (2011). Brief History of Cascarones. Retrieved from

Senaculo. Retrieved from

Siojo, R. (2018). Senakulo: Traditional Dramatization of the Passion of Jesus Christ. Retrieved from

WethePvblic (2016). 11 Practices Filipinos do during Mahal na Araw. Retrieved from

SJ Valdez

Dreamer, Doer, Self-proclaimed Adviser... Simply a MOM!