The Lenten season is a time of reflection, penance, and spiritual renewal for Christians around the world. The week leading up to Easter Sunday, commonly known as the Holy Week, during which believers are encouraged to give up something they enjoy, pray more, and engage in acts of charity. Along with these spiritual practices, the Lenten season is also steeped in a variety of superstitions and myths that have been passed down through generations.
These beliefs range from strictly prohibited activities to hearsay surrounding the Christian tradition and to the ability of certain foods to ward off evil spirits. While some of these traditions have influenced our religious convictions in a good way, they have also, however, fostered a narrow-minded outlook among many people toward the week-long holiday. To better understand these Lent traditions, here are six superstitions and beliefs commonly observed by Filipinos that are worth noting.
1. Noise are discouraged
Catholics perceive the Holy Week as a solemn period for contemplating the suffering, demise, and rebirth of Jesus Christ. To maintain peace within a household, an old Filipino custom disapproves of creating any noise or superfluous sound during this period, especially Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Black Saturday for these are considered as days of mourning.
At some point, children are also prohibited from watching television or playing games. Of course, this belief has changed drastically throughout the years with the advent of technology. Nowadays, watching television has less been restricted with broadcast stations curating programs and shows adamant to the theme of the Lenten season (pretty sure most of us have watched “The Bible” multiple times on television.) Karaoke, loud talks, excessive laughing, and even listening to amplified radios are still commonly restricted.
2. Wound Healing
Numerous Filipinos hold the belief that injuries or wounds incurred during Lent take longer to heal compared to regular calendar days. Some say that the older generation concocted this misconception to keep their children indoors.
According to a cultural anthropologist who appeared on a March 2018 episode of "Ang Pinaka" by GMA Public Affairs, this belief is rooted in the suffering of Jesus Christ during his crucifixion on the same day. Just as it took three days for Christ to resurrect on Easter Sunday, wounds acquired on Good Friday also take longer to heal. Experts suggest that this belief may have been influenced by the need to encourage children to behave during Holy Week since the faithful are expected to be in a reflective state of mind, and parents discourage their children from engaging in physical activities during this time
In connection with the belief about wounds and injuries, there are prohibitions during holy week about traveling. According to superstitions, accidents are common during the period of Lent, especially in days when people are mourning the death of Jesus Christ. This notion might come as something familiar, especially for those who have experienced being prohibited by their parents to ride vehicles or taking vacation, citing the reason that Jesus Christ is dead and no one would be watching above them. However, it's important to note that the death of Christ is a historical event that is commemorated as a Christian holiday during the 40-day period of Lent, and that Jesus Christ does not actually die every Lent season of every year. While Jesus did physically die on the cross, Christians believe in his resurrection and that he is alive today.
Water can have different meanings during certain days of Holy Week. According to superstitions, taking baths or doing laundry at 3 pm on Good Friday, which is believed to be the hour of Jesus Christ's death, is considered bad, and disobedience to this belief may bring misfortune upon the person. However, on the contrary, being wet on Easter Sunday is considered good, and it is believed that rainwater on this day is holy water that can have healing properties.
5. Meat Consumption
Eating meat during Lent is a contentious issue among Christians as meat products is often associated with impurity and a bad omen. Many Christians choose to abstain from meat as a part of their “panata” or sacrifice. Instead, they consume only seafood and fruits and vegetables. However, there is no universal rule on this matter, and some Christian denominations allow the consumption of meat during Lent, while others do not. Ultimately, the decision to eat meat during Lent is a personal one, and it is up to individuals to decide how they want to observe this important season of the Christian calendar.
6. Presence of Evil
The Holy Week also sparks a trend for talismans (e.g. anting-anting), amulets, and mystical totems from albularyos (witch doctor), shamans, and manghihilot (herbalist or faith healers). These items are believed to have magical properties that can ward off bad elements. This forms part of the reason why the presence of evil is said to be the strongest during Lent as the death of Jesus Christ allows evil spirits to freely roam around. The palaspas (palm fronds) blessed by the priest are also contoured as one of the main symbols of the Lent season where they are commonly placed in altars, doors, windows, or any side of the house to ward of evil spirits and bad luck.
The true message of Lent
Our religion is a vast map of culture built with different belief systems. Some might disagree with the way we sought to celebrate our Lent holiday, and some might find it weird, but this does not mean that our religious upbringing makes us less of a Christian. While our paths in this map may differ in terms of approach and practices, we all share the same underlying goal of achieving spiritual growth and renewal during this sacred time. Some may fast, while others may give up certain indulgences, but they all aim to purify their mind, body, and soul. The Lent season is meant to remind people of the importance of sacrifice, humility, and putting God and others first in their lives.
However, it is still important to know and become aware of what things to believe, and not to solely base our religion with superstitions. As Monsignor Pedro Quitorio III of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said:
“A person becomes a fool if his being a Christian is reduced to becoming superstitious. Our concentration should be on the gospel about the Passion of Christ.”
This Holy Week; remember to repent, (faithfully) sacrifice, and pray.