ON THE EVE OF LENT. Every year, we turn over the dried and dusty Blessed Palaspas to our parish church on the eve of Miercoles de Ceniza. Old blessed palms are burnt and mixed with water for the anointing of ash on the forehead during Ash Wednesday.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Cuaresma or the 40-days of Lent. Like the Christmas season in Catholic Philippines, the Lenten season is as lively and as colorful.
PALASPAS-MAKING TRADITION. On the eve of Palm Sunday, vendors of palaspas line the church patio and street alleys. The palaspas are woven on where they are sold. The unopened coconut leaves are often used to make the palaspas.
Like the annual making of the folksy parol, palaspas-making is a family tradition that is passed on to generations. When I asked vendors on how he or she learned to make palaspas, their answers were similar. They were taught by their parents, uncles and aunties, lolos and lolas to make palaspas and sell them on Palm Sunday.
THE BLESSING OF THE PALMS. On Palm Sunday, the palaspas becomes part of the reenactment of Christ entry to Jerusalem where He is welcomed by a crowd waving branches. In some towns, a statue of Christ on a donkey called the humenta is carried on an andas in solemn procession. In Tondo, The priest plays the role of Christ in a procession where he rides a horse while blessing the crowd waving palaspas. In Binondo, the women spread the banig before the priest on procession that begins from church and ends at Plaza Calderon dela Barca.
Folk traditions taught us that anything touched or blessed by a holy man becomes sacred. Like crucifixes, religious statues, anting-anting medallions, the palaspas once blessed can ward off evil.
THE VERSATILE PALASPAS. Traditionally, sanctified palaspas are brought home and are placed on windows and above doorways to shield the house from evils spirits and calamities and bring good fortune. Some blessed palaspas are placed at the edge of the roof as protection from lightning. Burnt palms are scattered on rice fields to ensure good harvest.
In the local film Shake, Rattle and Roll, the one with the manananggal episode, palaspas was used to ward of the man-eating aswang. In Cabanatuan and Aklan, palaspas ash is mixed with coconut oil, incense charcoal, and a piece of holy candle to make a cure-all ointment. A healing ritual in Pakil involves the burning of blessed fronds before the sick. Its vapors meant to heal and the ashes are stirred into a glass of water as a drink for fever. In Ilocos, a small palaspas is woven to replace the cross from a rosary on a corpse’s right hand. This ritual for the dead guarantees an entrance to St. Peter’s gate.
10 February 2016
Miercoles de Ceniza