• kaye1
  • kaye4
  • kaye2
  • kaye8
  • kaye5
  • kaye7
  • kaye6

Fiestas have a rightful place in the lives of Filipinos. They are observed all-year round, especially during the summer months. These celebrations embody the religious and social aspects inherent to Philippine culture. Essentially, fiestas are religious in nature. Being predominantly Catholic, we demonstrate our love and thanksgiving to God in liturgical and devotional forms. Clad in our Sunday’s best, we flock to the church to hear mass and afterward take part in the procession holding lit candles, singing devotional songs and praying novenas in honor of the town’s Mahal na Patron or Pintakasi  (Patron Saint). As far as one can tell, these celebrations also keep the community intact. Town folks help prepare for the festivities. They decorate the church’s altar and aisles, string up colorful banderitas atop every street in the parish environs, and share home made delicacies and snacks.

The Santa Cruz de Mayo or simply, Santacruzan is held annually in the warm month of May and is considered to be the queen of Filipino festivals.  This intrinsically Filipino tradition roots from the early Spanish colonization of the Philippines. On the secular perspective, the Spanish friars purposely held ostentatious and elaborate rituals and processions in the name of Catholicism, which included pageantry, music and costumes, mainly to bring the natives out of the dirt barrios and have them reside in the town proper next to the church and the municipal hall. This system was called the Reduccion. On the religious viewpoint, Santacruzan is a weeklong street parade in almost every town, from the dirt road barrio to the metropolis in commemoration of the finding of the wooden cross on which Christ was crucified. The Spanish missionaries brought this popular devotion to the Holy Cross from Europe to the Philippines. In order to catechize the people they introduced a dramatic presentation of the Invention of the Cross [Latin, invenire, meaning "to find" or "to come upon"] in the form of a procession. It intended to present to the eyes of the people what really was celebrated on May 3. This celebrated event takes place in the month of May when flowers bloom and the weather is amicable. Beautiful town belles are selected to participate in this colorful procession. Escorted by willing bachelors under hand-carried bamboo arches adorned by fragrant native flowers, each sagala is dressed up in a queen’s costume of beads and lace depicting biblical characters, holy men and women, and some folkloric personage. santacruzan

Unfortunately, this religious and cultural parade is often dishonored, permeated with irrelevant and strange elements, and executed in extremely bad taste. In the urban areas, the Santacruzan is a perfect avenue for the Filipino unpleasant feature known as pabonggahan or palabas. On the one hand, the well heeled, overdressed by imaginative and experimental couturiers, tries to make an impression that they actually have money to burn.  On the other extreme, social-climbing esquinita families save for it with a tuyo-and-rice budget all year. To make matters worse, transvestites go even farther in ridding off the procession’s religious and artistic component by transforming it into a ridiculous, circus-like extravaganza. Preciosa S. Soliven, a distinguished newspaper columnist, comments:

"It is sad that we have desecrated the Santacruzan by converting it to a mere beauty pageant and even a circus. When my daughter was 18 years old, she was asked to be Reyna Elena in Mandaluyong and found herself as only one of the 15 other Reyna Elenas. Recently, the Mandaluyong Santacruzan even featured superheroes like X-men, Wolverine, Storm, and Lastikman, instead of the banderadas or flag bearers, the lead personages of the procession…”

With the view of preserving Santacruzan as cultural heritage and an edifying religious experience, those involved in organizing this procession may use the following as reference or instructional material. This colorful parade is appropriately arranged in this order:

I. Pre-Christianity

(Epitomizes ordinary way of life and innate religiosity of our forefathers before the advent of Christianity and other institutional religions).

  1. El Viejo Matusalén - As maintained in local legends, when the moon is full, one can see a shadow of an old bearded man riding in a pushcart and looking preoccupied with toasting grains of sand, stones and ashes in a huge pan over a fire. This is a reminder that all that glitters will end up like what he is toasting. Eventually, he came to be known as Matusalem or Batusalem to the natives. In point of fact, he is Methuselah, descendant of Seth, son of Enoch. Genesis 5.21-27 says that he lived almost a thousand years .  Thus, he is a symbol of longevity. metusalem
  2. Las Reinas de las Banderas – It is a known fact that no man dates to sew any national flag. Owing to this fact, it is no more than befitting for women to carry national symbols, to wave their glory, to show their pride and to represent their strengths to all mankind. Three young lasses bear the national emblems of the Philippines, Vatican City and Spain. They represent the arrival of Catholicism to our Land through the efforts of the Spanish Crown.
  3. Las Aetas - They depict the situation of the indigenous people before the rediscovery of the Philippines. Characters portraying as Aetas may cover their skin with dark paint and temporary tattoo, wear native Aeta accessories and sport hunting tools like bow and arrow. 
  4. La Reina Mora - Represents the dominant religion before the advent of Christianity in the Philippines. Character protraying the Moorish Queen may wear Islamic clothing like hijab and abaya.
  5. La Reina de las Estrellas – Represents one of the three major elements of the heavens. In the distant past, our forefathers look toward the starry sky at nighttime and ask the “leading lights” for guidance believing that the stars are the spirits of their departed kinfolks. The sagala representing Reina de las Estrellas carries a wand with a star situated on its end.
  6. La Reina de la Luna - Represents the moon and its power over the seas and oceans. The fishers take into consideration the figure of the moon before they go fishing. This custom guides them out of harm's way during seagoing. The young lady playing Reina de la Luna holds as a scepter bejeweled with a moon crescent. sunmoonstars
  7. La Reina del Sol – The first condition of life is light. There is life whenever and wherever there is light. The sun, being a symbol of supremacy and physical strength, represents power over all creations. The participant holds a wand capped with the emblem of the sun.
  8. La Reina de los Pescadores – Fishers implore the backing of spirits or anitu for a good harvest. A pretty sagala holds in her right hand a cluster of newly caught fish suspended on strings and a fishing net in the other.
  9. La Reina de la Selva – Locally known as Diwata or Devata, she is the custodian of the woods and all its inhabitants. Our ancestors seek her blessing before pursuing wild animals or gathering firewood from the forest. She is typified bearing a twig enhanced with fresh green leaves. Small birds or butterflies can help augment her twig-scepter too.
  10. Ang Dalagang Bukid – She carries an indigenous bilao heaving with fruits and vegetables which represents the abundant yield of farmlands during the month of May. She is fully dressed in a Balintawak and motions as if bringing provisions to the farmers. She personifies the typical barrio maiden.
  11. La Reina de los Abogados – She bears the sacred scriptures in her right hand which symbolizes that the Word of God is the sole guiding principle of all laws. Every proclamation and decree trails its genesis from God’s natural law. She wears an academic gown to signify her proficiency and competence to defend the poor and the oppressed.
  12. La Reina de la Justicia – She is the personification of the “mirror of justice.” She carries a sword on one hand and a weighing scale on the other. She has her eyes covered as a symbol of equality of all individuals in the realm of law. justice
  13. La Reina de la Libertad – Lady Liberty stands for freedom and sovereignty. She is represented holding a lighted torch on one hand and a book on the other.

II. Old Testament Times

(Consist of personage from the Old Testament Era. This gives us an idea that they too were waiting    for the coming of the Messiah).

  1. La Reina Judith – This wealthy and devout widow saved her city, and thereby her nation, from the invading Assyrian army led by General Holofernes. Judith’s beauty coupled by her boldness won for her the trust of the assaulting general. She enters their camp, beheads Holofernes and brings his head home to Bethulia. Thus the sagala playing this role carries in her right hand a blade and a man’s head on the other. She is a symbol of the Jewish people who overcame their formidable enemy because of their trust in God.
  2. La Reina Condenada – Also known as La Reina Sentenciada, tradition largely discredited by modern scholars has it that she is Judith sentenced for Holofernes’ decapitation. Her hands are in fetters of iron. Two men fully clad like Roman soldiers accompany the sagala playing this particular role.
  3. La Reina de Saba – 1 Kings 10 describes her visit to Solomon. She came to 'test him with hard questions' - she wanted to know whether he was really as wise as they said he was. Posterity has remembered her for the rich gifts she brought with her: spices, gold and precious stones - gifts that lend her a kind of oriental exoticism. In medieval Christianity she is part of the legend of the true cross. The story goes that when she visited Solomon she refused to walk on a bridge because it was made of the wood that would later be turned into the cross of Christ. Modern archaeologists contend that she must be from the Africas. She is therefore black. The sagala portraying the queen of Sheba wears a gown and a headdress bedecked by beads and pearls. She likewise carries a box packed with jewels.
  4. Las Reinas Ruth y Naomi - The Book of Ruth tells the story about a Hebrew woman named Naomi who was living during the period of the judges prior to the establishment of the monarchy. During a time of famine, she and her husband, Elimelech, went with their two sons to the land occupied by the Moabites to find food. Here the two sons married daughters of the Moabites. Later, after her husband and both of the sons had died, Naomi decides to return to the land of the Hebrews so that she might dwell among her own people. She urges the two daughters-in-law to stay with the Moabites while she goes back to her former home. One of them, named Orpah, yields to the request and bids farewell to the mother-in-law. The other one, Ruth, refuses to let the mother-in-law go back alone. Her affection and loyalty is expressed in the words, "for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God." Both of them carry a cluster of wheat; the pursuit of which commenced their never-to-be-forgotten story.
  5. La Reina Ester - the Jewish woman who saved her people faced with annihilation. As a girl living under Persian rule, she was essentially kidnapped and taken into the harem of the king, Xerxes. The king, taken by her beauty, made her his queen. Not so long after, she found herself involved in a delicate balancing act between the ruling Persians and her own Jewish people. Through Esther's intercession the Jews were able to defend themselves and destroy their enemies (events which are celebrated at the Jewish Feast of Purim). The sagala playing as Queen Esther holds an imposing scepter capped with the Star of David. starofdavid

III. New Testament Epoch

(Consists of the women involved in the Jesus Movement. They were the ones who encountered, administered, and whose illnesses were healed by our Lord. The relics of the passion precedes Jesus’ band of followers).

A. The Relics of the Passion

  1. Tres Dados – Three wooden dice used by the Roman soldiers when they took gamble on the garments of the unclothed and crucified Christ.
  2. Treinta Monedas de Plata – Thirty pieces of silver which the Pharisees and scribes paid Judas Iscariot in order to persuade him to betray his master. 
  3. La Lanza de Longinus – Jesus’ side from which blood and water streamed was pierced by Longinus (Roman soldier) by a spear.
  4. El Latigo del Centurion – Jesus was hardheartedly whipped and lashed by the centurions which cut open enormous wounds all over his body.
  5. Los Clavos dela Crucifixion – The nails that fastened the Lord’s extremities to the cross.
  6. La Corona de Espinas – The ruthless soldiers poked fun at Jesus and put on his head a crown of thorns.
  7. La Inscripcion INRI – The inscription written in Hebrew, Greek and Latin which was placed atop Jesus’ cross which says, “Jesus of Nazareth , King of the Jews.”
  8. El Gallo de S. Pedro – Three crows of the rooster which symbolizes Peter’s denial of the Divine Master.

B. Women of the New Testament

  1. Santa Photina de Samaria – Also known as “La Samaritana”. Untrustworthy legend has her as the woman from Sychar with whom Jesus talked at the well (John 4). The sagala playing this role carries a jug of water a la aguadora.
  2. Santa Verónica – The woman of Jerusalem who wiped the face of Christ with a veil while he was on the way to Calvary. According to tradition, the cloth was imprinted with the image of Christ's face. Unfortunately, there is no historical evidence or scriptural reference to this event, but the legend of Veronica became one of the most popular in Christian lore and the veil one of the beloved relics in the Church. Nothing is known about Veronica, although the apocryphal Acts of Pilate identify her with the woman mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew who suffered from an issue of blood. Her name is probably derived from vera [Latin, true] and εικόνα [Greek, image]. shroudofturin
  3. Las Santas María y Marta de Betania – Mary and Martha lived with their brother Lazarus at Bethany, a village not far from Jerusalem. They are mentioned in several episodes in the Gospels.  On one occasion, when Jesus and His disciples were their guests (Luke 10:38-42), Mary sat at Jesus' feet and listened to Him while her sister Martha busied herself with preparing food and waiting on the guests, and when Martha complained, Jesus said that Mary had chosen the better part.  On the basis of these incidents, many Christian writers have seen Mary as representing Contemplation (prayer and devotion), and Martha as representing Action (good works, helping others); or love of God and love of neighbor respectively.  In the Philippines, Mary is usually pictured bearing a bottle of wine and Martha carrying a basket of bread.
  4. Santa María Juana – Locally regarded as Maria Jacobe. She was the wife of Chuza, steward of King Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She was one of the women who helped provide for Jesus and the apostles (Luke 8:3) and one of the very few who discovered the empty tomb of Jesus on the first Easter morning. Joanna is often portrayed in the Philippines as carrying a bunch of broomsticks.
  5. Santa María Salomé – According to the medieval Golden Legend, the Virgin's mother, St. Anne, was married three times and bore two other daughters named Mary. Mary Salome was the wife of Zebedee and mother of apostles James and John (therefore, our Lord’s cousins). She was present during the crucifixion and was one of the women who discovered the empty tomb of his nephew (Mark 16: 1 ff.) She is pictured carrying a thurible where incense is burned.
  6. Santa María Cleofe – She was also a part of Jesus’ extended family. She was the Blessed Mother’s sister along with Mary Salome. She was the wife of Clopas and mother of James the younger. She was also present during the crucifixion and accompanied Mary Magdalene to the tomb of Christ on the first Easter. The sagala playing as Cleofe carries a lamp of oil.
  7. Santa María Magdalena – A woman from Magdala on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee near Tiberias. She became a follower of Christ. Most scholars contend that she was the most important woman disciple in the movement of Jesus. Tradition has labeled her a prostitute, but there is nothing in the Bible to support this view and much to dispute it. Many ideas about Magdalene persist today, whether or not the biblical text and historical resources confirm them. She was identified with the sinful woman who anointed Christ's feet at the house of Simon the Pharisee. Hence, the sagala representing  Maria Magdalena carries in her hand a bottle of scented oil. Others believed she was Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus. After Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene. She announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord." In other scriptures, her name is first in the list of witnesses (Mk. 16:1-11; Mt. 28:1; Lk. 24:10; Jn. 20:11-18; 1 Cor. 15:5-8).

D. The Triumph of Christendom

(This section features the characters which has to do with the finding of the true cross of Christ and bringing it back to the hands of the Catholic Church).

  1. Las Reinas Fe, Esperanza y Caridad – According to an Eastern allegory explaining the cult of Divine Wisdom, they were the daughters of Sophia, a widow in Rome. They suffered martyrdom during Hadrian’s persecution of Christians. Fe, 12, was scourged and when unharmed when boiling pitch was poured on her, was beheaded. Esperanza, 10 and Caridad, 9, were also decapitated after emerging unscathed from a furnace. During the procession, they carry a cross, an anchor, and a heart, respectively.
  2. La Reina Sofía – The mother of Fe, Esperanza, Caridad. She died three days after the martyrdom of her daughters while praying at their graves. She carries an owl, an existing symbol for wisdom.faithhopelove
  3. El Emperador Maxencio – He was the nemesis of Constantine in the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 CE. Constantine won the battle and become the sole ruler of the Holy Roman Empire. Maxentius drowned in the Tiber during the battle. He who is going to portray as Emperor Maxentius must be clad in complete gladiator outfit.
  4. San Macario de Jerusalén – He was the Bishop of Jerusalem from 312 – 334. Tradition ascribes to him a part in finding the true cross. According to Paulinus of Nola, he was the one who instructed that the three crosses unearthed in Jerusalem be brought to contact with the body of a dead man; the cross that restored life to the body could then be identified as the true cross of Christ.
  5. La Reina Enferma – Other than the miracle of a man being brought back to life, other authors would argue that the contact with true cross of Christ caused a woman at her deathbed to be healed. Other miracles of the same nature were likewise reported. La Reina Enferma represents the miracles that transpired which led to the identification of Jesus’ cross. The sagala playing the role of La Reina Enferma carries a crutch as a symbol of infirmity. 
  6. La Reina Elena y Constantino Magno –In Vita Constantini, Eusebius maintains that at high noon, before the battle, Constantine and his army, while he was praying to the God of his father, saw a cross over the sun with the inscription In Hoc Signo Vinces (In this sign, you shall conquer). That night, Christ appeared to Him and told him to print the cross on the shields of his soldiers. His victory over Maxentius’ army led him to conversion. Her empress mother Saint Helen made one of the first pilgrimages to the Holy Land where she unearthed the relics of the passion and the true cross of Christ. The chosen Reina Elena holds a wooden cross (without the corpus). Constantine the great is dressed in prince’s clothes and holds a parchment in his hand that inscribes, “Edictum Mediolanense” (Edict of Milan).
  7. La Reina EmperatrizHelena was just a poor servant girl who became the concubine of Constantius Chlorus, was abandoned for political reasons, but was named Augusta by her son, Constantine the Great at the beginning of his reign. Being the legendary founder of the true cross of Christ, she is hailed by the whole Christendom for her deed. She is depicted carrying an orb in some provinces in the Philippines, while other regions portray her as bearing a crown and a scepter situated on a red throw cushion. 


The procession is highlighted by the image of the Holy Cross mounted on an anda or carroza accented with fresh native flowers and is followed by the steady beat of the brass band. The devotees walking with the procession hold lighted candles in their hands and partake in praying and singing. After the procession, there is a pabitin that serves as a culminating activity for all the children to enjoy. Pabitin is a square trellis where goodies (candies, fruits, toys, etc.) are hung by strings. This trellis in turn is tied to a rope and is suspended on a strong branch or pole. The children gather under the trellis and they jump as high as they can to try to pick the goodies as the trellis gets lowered to them while someone pulls it up and down repeatedly until the goodies are gone. It is requested that male members attending the Santacruzan wear Barong Tagalog and the women wear Filipino costumes, if available. The Santacruzan, the queen of all fiestas, has indeed a rightful place in the lives of the Filipinos.

Selected Bibliography

  1. Lea T. Castelo. This is the Philippines! People and Place. Quezon City: Nanette Castelo Daza, 1977.
  2. Dr. Felino Lazaro. Santacruzan: The Queen of Filipino Festivals  (http://www.hagonoy.com/lbcorpus/halbc007.html)
  3. Preciosa S. Soliven. “Revising the Santacruzan Prayers as a Weapon Against Terrors,” The Philippine Star, May 31, 2003: I2-I4.
  4. Romel San Pedro. unpublished manuscript: Roster of Santacruzan Characters, San Jose Parish-Roman Catholic Diocese of Kalookan, 1999.
  5. Ruby Bayan: 'Santacruzan' - The Queen of May (http://www.2camels.com/flowers-of-may.php)
  6. Jeff Jacinto. unpublished manuscript. Santa Cruz de Mayo at Flores de Maria, Sta. Perpetua Parish and Most Holy Redeemer Parish-Roman Catholic Diocese of Cubao, 2003.


  1. Cover photos courtesy of Ms. Karmina Flores (Reina Elena)
  2. Santacruzan Procession (http://www.holly-day.com/more-holidays/religious/flores-de-mayo-philippines)
  3. Metuselah (http://t3.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcTsZ_0onx5OEnaTMS4ruZbK2gsHfqWSJF)QUN_b1NTKbCU1YrD8JUurKMeSOCg
  4. Sun_Moon_Stars (http://www.voodoo-king.com/voodoostore/images/sunmoon-voodoo-plaque.jpg)
  5. Lady Justice (http://t2.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcSJdMxUxLGSbX_ZJHyt3XKFI-O3oFKUgPWHEvj5vTUgHuN2ybp-ipItnoaV8A)
  6. Star_of_David (http://t1.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcR2TmX2zop5ZoxmdXa7PXw4FspU7aCQxb4bd67-OY-2jVTPzYeewxDmy9A8)
  7. Shroud of Turin (http://www.medievalists.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Shroud-of-Turin.jpg)
  8. Faith_Hope_Love_Wisdom (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/9e/Karp_Zolotaryov_Sophia_Faith_Hope_Charity_1685.jpg/192px-Karp_Zolotaryov_Sophia_Faith_Hope_Charity_1685.jpg)
  9. Saint Macarius and Helena (http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_LfmPOvLl_jo/Sq3k8-d2qFI/AAAAAAAAFOA/YNsIjQTM_h4/s400/SANTA+ELENA-VICTORIA.jpg)

For the three most beautiful women in my life: Herminia, my mom; Bessie, my wife; and Jill, my daughter.