Flores de Mayo/Santacruzan: Is There A Celebration In The Midst Of A Pandemic?
It was a hot summer time and the kids were taking their month-long school break, so it was an opportunity for the parish church community to teach catechism on Saturdays for the entire month of May. She was about 5 or 6 yrs. old then, when she first attended a catechism class organized by their parish. Being a Marian devotee, her mother encouraged her and her other siblings to attend the said catechism class. This activity became more exciting for them as they got to play with their friends thereafter (oops, just an innocent mind!)
The catechism activity turned out to be fun and productive, they learned new things – about God, the Holy Family, the life of Jesus, Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, among others. After class, the catechist would invite everyone to the garden side of the church called “Mary’s Garden”, on which a statue of the Blessed Mother stands. The said statue (which had a crown of flowers) quite differed from that of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal which has a crown of stars or from the other “titles” of the Virgin Mary. The catechist mentioned about the connection of the Blessed Mother with the month of May. Ordinarily, flowers beautifully bloom in May, hence the “May Flowers” festival. As such, the Virgin Mary is crowned with flowers as the Queen of Heavenly Gardens, and therefore the month of May is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The kids looked forward to attending the catechism class and seeing their friends bringing flowers for the Blessed Virgin Mary. As she and some of her classmates didn’t have flower gardens in their home, they would be allowed to get it from the garden of the Church which has an array of pots and plots filled with all kinds of flowers, such as: “Santan” in red, pink, orange, and yellow hues (everyone loved this flower because they got to suck the nectar from its stem), “Rosal” with its immaculately white color and its fragrant smell, the very beautiful “Yellow Bells”, and the least that they could get was the ever blooming and colorful yet fragile “Bougainvilla” and from the sturdy tree of “Kalachuchi”. After the talks, recitation of the Holy Rosary (in their native tongue) and the offering of flowers, everyone was given small brown paper bags filled with goodies distributed by one of the donors or the sponsors of the day. For the kids, that small gift was the most exciting part of all, as on their way home they finally get to taste their rewards for the day, delighting their sweet tooth and taste buds!
On the day of the main event, the last Saturday of May, the kids got to wear their white dresses and the home-made flower garlands to be placed around their heads, prepared by their mothers or elder siblings. After the Holy Mass, the kids carried small baskets (made of paper) with some cut flowers or petals on it. While walking to the altar, they would scatter the petals around, followed by the faithful who also brought flowers for offering in honor of the Blessed Mother.
This is the reason why these memories of a humble celebration of “Flores de Mayo” are still vivid in her mind till now. There was also a Santacruzan celebration but the highlight of the event was the beautiful image of the Blessed Mother placed in a decorated carriage accompanied by the family of the Hermana Mayor and members of Marian organizations and with the parishioners, all singing Marian songs during the procession.
Just like any other traditions, the Flores de Mayo/Santacruzan festivities continued to evolve through the years, with major transformations. Prior to Covid-19 pandemic, the focus were more geared towards the “Santacruzan” celebration, the parade of the beautiful ladies in town or the so-called “Sagalas” emulating the real “Queens” of medieval times wearing elegant expensive costumes and with good-looking men escorting them. Seemingly, the main highlight of the event was no longer the Holy Mass, the flower offering and the praying of the Holy Rosary but the parade of good looking men, women or even gay members of the community, as if people were watching a real beauty pageant! As a matter of fact, large government and private offices as well as commercial/mall establishments have organized similar events and would even invite famous celebrities and beauty queens to make it more appealing and to elicit more crowd for commercial and tourism purposes. Sadly, some people would go to church not necessarily to attend related religious activities (Holy Mass, Recitation of the Holy Rosary, etc.) but to watch the parade and take photos of the beautiful participants for posting on their social media pages, downplaying the real essence of the Flores de Mayo. They forgot the main rationale for the celebration – to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary. In fact, some spectators would start to disperse after watching the “Santacruzan”, forgetting that the carroza (or carriage) of the Blessed Mother is usually at the tail end of the procession. As such, it was not surprising to read press statements from some members of the Catholic Church reminding parishioners to be mindful of the original intent of the Flores de Mayo festivity and for them to maintain “sacredness and dignity” during the said celebration. As reported in the dailies, one Catholic clergy advised the parishioners to celebrate the Flores de Mayo/Santacruzan “in a simple manner”, excluding the “worldly considerations”, “extravagance and style”. It was further emphasized that the Flores de Mayo and Santacruzan should serve as an opportunity for priests and other parish communities to teach catechism, particularly on the devotion to the Blessed Mother.
In the midst of the pandemic, during the past year and this year, the Church and its community have not been able to celebrate Flores de Mayo in full blast and full swing! However, there were places in the country which bravely made it but on a sober yet holier mode. Usually this festivity is celebrated in larger groups but because of health protocols (e.g. social distancing and the like), some parish churches successfully made its way to celebrate Flores de Mayo, the way it should be/should have been, in an austere manner. In Borongan City, Eastern Samar for instance, a simple yet practical approach was adopted by the organizers last year. Instead of people participating in the procession, they had a motorcade where the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary was slowly paraded throughout the town’s city center. To welcome the Blessed Mother, the residents prepared makeshift altars in front of their homes, with the images of the Blessed Mother placed on it. The people patiently waited, wore masks, kneeled and made the sign of the cross as the motorcade of the Virgin Mary passed through them. Indeed, it was a sight to behold (see photo below). The people paid respect and reverence to the Blessed Mother in a proper way.
On the other hand, there were some groups (a community in Marikina City) where the organizers planned for a Santacruzan pageant online and in social media where people get to view the participants in their glam attire, mainly to support the beauty and fashion industries, stylists and make-up artists. which have all been affected by this pandemic due to quarantines and lockdowns.
While it is laudable to celebrate Flores de Mayo/Santacruzan to remember our values and traditions, apart from fun and merriment, it would be more appropriate for us to reorient ourselves that these events have religious roots honoring and recognizing the Blessed Virgin Mary as the center of it. It is worth noting however that the Flores de Mayo/Santacruzan I’ve attended so far in NYC with the Filipino American community have been celebrated in a very pious tradition and hopefully it stays that way.
Let’s remember that our participation in the said celebration is one way of developing our spiritual growth, specifically on our interior devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. At the back of my mind, this question just pop up: Could this pandemic serve as a wake-up call to reorient us to the original intent, the religious significance of this kind of celebration? No one knows. But maybe.
During this pandemic, hopefully we can extend genuine help to our disadvantaged neighbors who are in dire need. Let’s humbly seek Our Lady’s intercession for our petitions, especially for the end of this pandemic, and for physical, emotional and spiritual healing for those who are sick, infected and whose livelihood have been affected by this virus.
Thank you for taking the time to read. Happy Mary’s month to you all.