Does Flores de Mayo just mean Flowers of May in the literal sense of the word? Is it the same as Santacruzan? Why is it sometimes called Flores de Maria? Is it a celebration for Mary or Saint Helena?
While there are hundreds if not thousands of festivals celebrated in the Philippines, one is thought to be above them all – Flores de Mayo. It is perhaps the most colorful (what with all those flowers), the most widely celebrated (simultaneously across the archipelago), the most anticipated of all festivals (why, isn’t it every Filipina girl’s dream to be Reina Elena?), and the most extravagant (think a lavish Santacruzan).
It is an event that we Filipinos are very familiar with, notwithstanding religious affinity. But how much do we know about Flores de Mayo? As a non-Catholic, do we perceive the celebration to be just another one of those colorful fiestas? As a Catholic, do we realize the spiritual value of celebrating Flores de Mayo, or is it just a chance for us to join the glitz and glam of the Santacruzan pageantry?
Is it a Month-Long Celebration?
As the name suggests, Flores de Mayo is celebrated throughout the month of May. It is among the countless Marian special events, a series of devotional acts and sacrifices offered to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Flores de Mayo is a Roman Catholic religious tradition, a month-long holy rite, celebrated from the first of May until the thirty-first of May.
A Festival of Flowers
“Flores” is the Spanish term for flowers and “Mayo” is the local term for the month of May. Thus, Flores de Mayo literally means Flowers of May. May after all is the month when most flowers are in full bloom, making it the perfect time to hold such an event. However, more than just a mere festival of flowers, Flores de Mayo has other spiritual meanings and symbolisms in the Catholic faith.
A Parade of Beauties
Yes, but not necessarily.
To the less informed and naïve, Flores de Mayo could only pertain to the flashy sagala or the Santacruzan (Sacred Cross) parade. To them, the festival is only about the processional pageantry, the display of beautiful maidens alongside dashing young male escorts in their most elaborate and eloquent wardrobe. Sometimes, socialites and celebrities are paired with the most eligible bachelors to represent the different queens and escorts in the procession. Thus, if one couldn’t be part of the parade, at least they can witness it if only to briefly experience affluence. Flores de Mayo is sometimes called Santacruzan, although the latter pertains to the culminating parade or the grand finale of the month-long festivities of Flores de Mayo.
A Fashion Show
Yes, but this was not the original intent.
The Santacruzan queens and escorts (apparently the fairest people in the land) would come in glamorous gowns and barongs, depicting royalty and esteem. For many years now, the Santacruzan has become nothing but a religious fashion show, much to the dismay of the Church elders and priests. Amidst the Church efforts of reminding the people of the sanctity of Flores de Mayo, saying the festival is a holy rite not a fashion show and discouraging the LGBT from joining the Santacruzan, the flamboyant pageantry continues.
A Spanish Legacy
The Philippines would not be celebrating Flores de Mayo or any feast honoring Roman Catholic saints had it not for the Spanish conquistadors who came and ruled our land for three centuries. Notwithstanding cruelty and abuse, the Spanish brought Christianity (Roman Catholicism) to our country. The Spaniards were the ones who introduced the practice of celebrating Flores de Mayo, which we observe until this day.
A Roman Catholic Tradition
As a Spanish legacy, Flores de Mayo is rooted in the Roman Catholic religion. In fact, the entire celebration commemorates the Blessed Virgin Mary and honors the mystical finding of the True Cross of Jesus by St. Helena of Constantinople, the mother of Constantine the Great (the first Christian emperor). In fact, Flores de Mayo is often called Flores de Maria for being a festival dedicated to Mary.
A Roodmas-Inspired Tradition
Roman Catholics, including those in the Philippines, used to celebrate both the Finding of the Holy Cross (May 3rd) and the Feast of the Cross (September 14). In 1960, Pope John XXIII combined the two into a single Feast of the Cross to be observed every 14th of September. However, the Philippines continue to observe the Finding of the Holy Cross every month of May, in accordance of the traditional Roodmas. It was believed that St. Helena found that True Cross on May 3, 355, hence, the Roodmas celebration every 3rd of May.
A Historical Reenactment
Although she is repeatedly represented in the parade, the main character of Santacruzan is not the Virgin Mary, but St. Helena, better known as Queen Helen or Reina Elena. The Santacruzan is after all a depiction of St. Helena’s legendary quest to find the relic of the Sacred Cross. According to accounts, some 300 years after Christ’s death, St. Helena aged 75, set out for Calvary to find the True Cross of Jesus, and found three crosses. St. Helena then asked sick servants to touch or lie down on each cross, and the one that healed them was deemed as True Cross on which Jesus was crucified and died.
A Feast for Children, Too
While Flores de Mayo, specifically the Santacruzan, is largely participated by teens and young adults, children are also very much involved in the festivities. Young devotees may be assigned to personally offer cut flowers to the Blessed Virgin Mary, dress up as young queens or little angels in a kiddie version of the Santacruzan, or become young boy escorts to the reinas. Also, after the procession, it is customary for kids to join party games, particularly the pabitin – a decorated trellis adorned with assorted toys and treats, and is pulled up and down with a makeshift pulley.
A Feast for Mary
The Santacruzan, highlighted by parading the community’s Reina Elena, may only last for a day (or night), but Flores de Mayo and all the festivities dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary last for the entire month of May. Catholics should never forget that Flores de Mayo is not just about the flowers, the Santacruzan or the parties. It is also a feast for Mary and her spiritual significance in the Catholic faith.
In fact, among the events of the Flores de Mayo with a spiritual importance is the saying of the novena. Each day, Marian devotees would visit chapels and churches, offer flowers, sing hymns, and say the rosary. Many may deem the opulent Santacruzan as the highlight of Flores de Mayo, not the Marian devotees. To the latter, the dressing and crowning of the Blessed Virgin Mary and sacrificial offering of prayers and flowers are the most important parts of the festivities. Flores de Mayo in fact starts with the novena, with a procession culminating on the ninth day.
Flores de Mayo is regarded as the Queen of Filipino Festivities because no other festival lasts as long, is as glamorous, as grandiose, as widespread and as opulent. But in the midst of all the lavish pageantry and extravagant parties, every Roman Catholic and devotee should know that Flores de Mayo is still a holy rite, a religious event, a month-long act of petition and thanksgiving to the Blessed Virgin Mary and to the finding of the Holy Cross.