Sunday, April 1, 2012

Palm Sunday Memories

Got chance to again attend this year's Palm Sunday mass at St. Joseph Church in Pacdal, Baguio City.

Like most Catholic churches in the Philippines, St. Joseph Church of Baguio goes into a festive mood as churchgoers hold high and wave their palm fronds as part of the Palm Sunday mass.  [April 1, 2012 photo by charlz castro]

For the uninitiated, here are excerpts from

Palm Sunday is one of the most important days in the Christian calendar after Christmas and Easter. Palm Sunday is the Sunday before Easter, and marks the beginning of Holy Week, the week of events leading up to Jesus' death.

Palm Sunday commemorates the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. The gospels record the arrival of Jesus riding into the city on a donkey, while the crowds spread their cloaks and palm branches on the street and shouted "Hosanna to the Son of David" and "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord" to honor him as their long-awaited Messiah and King.

The significance of Jesus riding a donkey and having his way paved with palm branches is a fulfillment of a prophecy spoken by the prophet Zechariah (Zechariah 9:9). In biblical times, the regional custom called for kings and nobles arriving in procession to ride on the back of a donkey. The donkey was a symbol of peace; those who rode upon them proclaimed peaceful intentions. The laying of palm branches indicated that the king or dignitary was arriving in victory or triumph.  

Today, Palm Sunday traditions are much the same as they have been since the tenth century. The ceremony begins with the blessing of the palms. The procession follows, then Mass is celebrated, wherein the Passion and the Benediction are sung. Afterwards, many people take the palms home and place them in houses, barns, and fields.

In some countries, palms are placed on the graves of the departed. In colder northern climates, where palm trees are not found, branches of yew, willow, and sallow trees are used. The palms blessed in the ceremony are burned at the end of the day. The ashes are then preserved for next year's Ash Wednesday celebration.

In the simplest of terms, Palm Sunday is an occasion for reflecting on the final week of Jesus' life. It is a time for Christians to prepare their hearts for the agony of His Passion and the joy of His Resurrection

As I was taking photos of the palm fronds being sold in front of the church then waved later by devotees for the "blessing of the palms" part of the mass, images of Palm Sundays past also waved in my memory.

For instance, I recalled the palm fronds that our family used for such occasions were always made by my maternal grandfather and brought to town early Palm Sunday morning all the way from I-iyo by my grandmother.

Called palaspas in Ilocano as well as in Isinay, my Apong always made them in such a way that they were different from other fronds brought to the Dupax church. Thus, we felt a special pride and committed some venial sin showing them off to "less-blessed" classmates as we waved them in church. 

Apong's palaspas designs consisted of pineapple, grasshopper, and bird-in-flight figures that up to this day I feel sorry not to have learned how to make (in much the same manner that I feel bad not having asked him to teach me how to weave pasiking and to tell me where he sourced the rattan poles he made into baskets) when he was still alive.

And what did we do when the palm fronds have been blessed?

We brought them home and, depending on how many they are, Mama would put them in strategic spots in the house, such as the corners of rooms or on top of windows. "To keep us safe from the lightning," she said one time.

Although Mama didn't specify it, it was an unwritten taboo for us kids to disturb the blessed palaspas where she put. Thus we were very careful not to displace them when we removed the cobwebs of the ceilings or wiped the dust of the windows.

The fronds would only be touched again when the next Palm Sunday comes, at which time the fronds have already become tinder dry, brown, dusty, and brittle.
Orange, one of our three one-month-old kittens, seems to prefer playing with the now brown and brittle palm fronds we used in last year's Palm Sunday than the fresh ones we just brought home. [April 1, 2012 photo by charlz castro]

In the interim, our playful minds would suddenly pay attention to the young coconut palms in the yard, and when there's not much to play with, pretty soon you would see us weaving balls out of the coconut leaves.

At times we would role them into trumpets (torotot) and competed as to whose instrument sounded the loudest.

Yes, girls and boys then were not only creative but also organic and resourceful when it came to making toys. We learned how to do them from playmates or older cousins. And we were free to get the raw materials for such toys, for so long as we didn't strip the young leaves of the coconut palms too  much.

Now, if you ask me what my self-made favorite coconut frond toy was, I tell you it was neither the ball (which was hard to throw far due to its super light weight) nor the torotot (which made irritating noise in the neighborhood for a couple of hours or so but which would soon self-destruct the longer you blew on it).

My pet coconut frond toy was rather the midrib of the palm leaf the tip of which I made into a lasso (silo in both Ilocano and Isinay) that I used to catch the ear of a docile classmate seated on the desk in front of me.

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