When the dominant color of the countryside is brown and the heat is piercing, the need for water becomes pronounced. Imagine if your bread and butter solely depends on the fruit of the soil, nothing will make your heart jump for joy than the first signs of rain.
In the past when climate change was not an issue, the rains came in May. The first drops were believed to be the tears of the Virgin whose heart had been stabbed by the cries of her children.
That is why until today, May has always been the month of religious pageants and processions. And what’s a main event without flowers? When parched lands are quenched with water, flowers soon bloom and display their magnificent colors.
The Flores de Mayo is dedicated to the Virgin whose compassion watered the earth. Tradition has it that for the whole month, children scour the countryside every afternoon for the most beautiful blooms to be offered at the altar of the Holy Mother. They are gathered by a catechist who leads them in the praying of the rosary. They will hold the beads that symbolize a “garland of roses” (latin: rosarium “rose garden”). They will recite the Our Father’s and the Hail Mary’s while glancing once in a while to the statue of the Virgin, and then stare longer for the fleeting glance of another child inviting them to play afterwards.
In traditional communities whose folks keep the Flores de Mayo untarnished by other influences, the religious procession is done at the end of the month, usually at nightfall. With a bouquet of flowers, children in their best white garment demurely walk around town. Wearing a ribbon sash with a title from the litany of the rosary, every sagala and their escort are lighted by the devotees’ candles. Since there are more titles in the litany, there could be more sagalas in the procession.
The most important title of the Flores is Rosa Mistica. It is given to the winner of a fund-raising beauty pageant or to a local’s daughter. The parent/s of the main sagala must have made a name for themselves, whether as an affluent balikbayan, a successful professional or a popular celebrity.
The statue is followed by a throng of people, singing the “Ave Maria” while holding lighted candles that create the ephemeral feel of the ritual. For the more affluent communities, the procession is enlivened by music from a brass band. In fact, the biggest day of the Flores begins with the band playing around 5:00 am. The early morning music is called, diana or aurora. It is to remind the people of the day’s significance.
At sunset, the sagalas emerge from the church under beautiful arcos held by relatives or secret admirers. At the end of the line, the statue of the Holy Mother mounted on a carroza and decked with flowers is pushed by male devotees.
To citizens who treasure the event, the Flores de Mayo culminates with a ball at the town plaza and the much awaited event is the Rigodon de Honor. (Check the Flores de Mayo of Marinduque.)
From the very beginning, the prime motivation of the Flores de Mayo has always been gratitude. But like many tried and tested traditions, people loses sight of its original value while other elements not intrinsic to it are added.
The Flores de Mayo has always been church-based. The children who pray the rosary and has given flowers are also the ones who will parade the titles of the Virgin around town. To some conscientious communities, the Rosa Mistica is given to the child who has a perfect attendance. It is meant to encourage the children; as well as to ensure that the Flores de Mayo will stay as part of our culture.
How are we going to update this tradition?
First, we should return to its original inspiration: the beginning of the rainy season and a gesture of gratitude.
With the El Nino and climate change today, the rains stood us up. The fields remain parched and dry even at the end of May. Are we foreseeing a change of title: Flores de Hunyo?
Or should we be conscious that even with God’s mercy, we are not exempted from responsibility?
The Flores de Mayo, despite its name, is church-and-community-based. Our faith is genuine, but uninformed. It has been kept by popular religious practices such as rosaries, novenas, processions, and celebrations.
That is why our faith has not been a leaven of transformation in Philippine society (The Christian Faith of Today’s Filipino, 2nd Plenary Council of the Philippines 1991).
Years ago, the Flores de Mayo has been a month-long celebration. Before the main event, the Hermano or Hermana Mayor organize other events such as medical and dental missions, fund-raising activities, or mass weddings.
Can an environmental activity be included in the Maytime festivities? The consciousness of today’s Fiipino has already been opened to understand our contribution to this heat that has not brought the rains back to our homeland.