Thursday, May 15, 2008


What’s May without the Flores de Mayo and the Santacruzan? What’s life without the childhood memories of May, of blazing summers and sudden downpours, of food and fiestas, of beaches and rivers and flowers and songs?

I know there will always be endless debates about the excessiveness in fiestas which are mostly celebrated in May. And there’s the churchy part that could also spark debates but most people choose to bask in its saccharine, flowery feel because it’s related to faith and worship and God and us. Or so we think.

Recently the Santacruzan, the Maytime procession that usually features celebs representing icons in biblical and Catholic Christian history, had its share of questions when Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales frowned upon and wished to ban Santacruzans that feature male gays dressed as female saints and the like. A church-related event was not going to be done this way, he said.

Many in the gay community raised a howl, saying this was a form of discrimination against them. Why, they said, also want to be part of the religious festivities and they are also children of God.

If I have to say my two cents it is this: The problem is not in the gays’ participation per se. It is in the act of impersonation and the spectacle that the event becomes. Sure, the female participants--children or grown-ups--are also impersonating (if I may also use the word) saintly female icons. But no one questions that because they all are female. But when the male gays do it something rankles. Why?

I asked myself why. I have nothing against gays. I have a number of respectable friends--male and female--from that sector. What seems hard to take and what makes the supposedly solemn event distasteful is when it becomes a spectacle. I am not saying these events were not so before the gays got into them. Even with only the straights participating, they are really hardly solemn. They’re more like a fashion parade, a tourist come-on. Nowadays especially.

Why? Because the celebrities do not really come dressed like the persons they’re representing, they come heavily made up and dressed in glittering gowns and stylized Filipino attires that make you think of ballrooms and fashion shows. People come to ogle and watch a parade, not to join a procession. That’s not a judgment. That’s an observation.

What’s wrong with that? Nothing wrong with that if you just call it a fashion parade of celebrities.

So while Archbishop Rosales has a point, he should go a little further. Are the Santacruzans as they are generally done even by the straights, really all that solemn and edifying? Or should the church just dismiss them as secular or pseudo-religious, much like the real-life crucifixions in Pampanga which the church does not sanction?

I think I caught beauty expert and gay advocate Ricky Reyes saying that the gays should not participate in the Santacruzan as sagalas but they could participate in the Flores de Mayo festivities which is in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The latter is more inclusive. I think they could just come as their regular every-day selves. To come in drag or costume, which is not their daily attire, might detract from the solemnity.
For true-blue Marian devotees, straight or gay, decorum is key.

I do not know the historical connection between the Santacruzan (which is about St. Helena’s search and finding of the Holy Cross) and the Marian Flores de Mayo but the two have become part of the Filipinos’ Maytime traditions here and abroad.

The Flores de Mayo (Flowers of May) honors Mary through flowers and songs. This was introduced by the Spaniards sometime in the 1800s after the proclamation of the dogma Mary’s Immaculate Conception.

Who is the Catholic Filipino who has not participated in the Flores de Mayo? This was part of my childhood. Every May morning we would gather flowers for the afternoon floral offering and singing. It was fun especially with friends. Rich kids, poor kids—it was a happy mix.

The Santacruzan celebrates the search and finding of the Holy Cross by Queen Helena whose son, Constantine became an emperor and convert to Christianity. Helena supposedly found the cross in Jerusalem and brought it to Rome. The Santacruzan was introduced to the Philippines by the Spaniards and has since transmogrified into the beauty pageant that it has sometimes become.

Here are some of the characters in the Santacruzan: The Reyna Elena (Queen Helena) is the most important one and the most lighted and florally bedecked. She walks at the very end of the procession and followed by a band.

Up front are the aging, ageless roaming character Methuselah followed by Reyna Banderada who carries a yellow flag that symbolizes the coming of Christianity. Then come the Aetas of the pre-Christian era and Reyna Mora of the Muslilms.

Reyna Fe carries the cross of faith, Reyna Esperanza carries an anchor and Reyna Caridad carries a heart. Reyna Abogada who is the defender of the poor and the opressesd carries a book, while the fettered Reyna Sentenciada represents the innocents. Reyna Justicia carries the scale of justice.

Then there are the special women of the Bible—Judith, Sheba, Esther, Samaritana, Veronica (her name is not mentioned in the Bible), the tres Marias—Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James and Mary the mother of Jesus.

They are followed by girls carrying the letters a,v,e,m,a,r,i and a. Then come Reyna de las Estrellas, Rosa Mystica, Reyna Paz, Reyna de las Profetas, Reyna del Cielo, Reyna de las Virgines and Reyna de las Flores—whose titles from the Litany of the Virgin Mary.

Yup, I too had my part in the Santacruzan when I was a chubby-cheeked 13-year-old. I was one of the Tres Marias. Argggh!