Memories of May
As a child, May was my favorite time of year because of the Santacruzan and Flores de Mayo. The Santacruzan, popularly known as “Santa Cruz” in my hometown, commemorates the search for the Holy Cross by Queen Helena and her son, Constantine, and is marked by nine days of prayer or novena. Back then, as the month of May drew near, makeshift chapels in all shapes and sizes would start sprouting in practically every corner of our town. Each chapel bore the name of the neighborhood association in the area, such as “Evangelista Union Catholic Action” (EUCA), of which my family and most of the families residing along Evangelista Street were members.For nine consecutive nights, my siblings and I would rush through supper and join the other children of the neighborhood, playing and running in the vicinity of the chapel as we waited for the prayers to begin. I especially loved the songs that were sung during the novena. I learned each song by heart over many years of being an active follower and, eventually, a prayer leader of the Santa Cruz. After the prayers, the hosts would give out the anticipated “refrescos,” usually a piece or two of local cookies called “galletas,” or roasted corn kernels, which we would munch noisily on the way home.
I looked forward to the last day of the novena or “tapos,” because it was marked by a grand celebration. The chapel would be spruced up, a priest would be invited to celebrate the holy Mass, and we would all be dressed in our best. When the religious activities were over and done with, the rest of the evening was spent on fun and entertainment, which for me was the best part of all. By tradition, some Santa Cruz groups would present an outdoor stage play written by a local playwright, an amateur singing contest, or even a glitzy coronation of the year’s Santa Cruz queen or “rayna.”
But mostly, the end of the novena was capped with a “bayle” or dance party in a fenced-in area of the neighborhood, with blaring music from a rented sound system. The members would bring their own tables and lay out an impressive array of food to eat and share with family and friends. Besides the dancing, which was always fun to watch, the “bayle” was also a time for families and neighbors to get together and strengthen their social ties.
The Flores de Mayo (Spanish for “flowers of May”) is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Every afternoon throughout the month of May, children and adults alike would offer flowers to the image of the Virgin Mary in church. In my time, preparing for the Flores de Mayo or “Flores” was such a big deal. After lunch, my sister and I would go out with friends and cousins under the heat of the summer sun to pick the prettiest flowers we could find. Then we would soak them in water to keep them fresh before we settled down for our afternoon nap. My mother strictly enforced the afternoon nap routine so that we would be well-rested and ready for the long hour in church later in the afternoon.
Back then, children wore white to the Flores. My sister and I had identical white dresses and veils of white lace and tulle, and cute little tin baskets in which we placed the flowers we had picked. The church was a noisy sea of white as we children, some dressed as angels, waited eagerly for the big moment when we would march to the altar and offer our flowers to the Blessed Virgin Mary, singing in our shrill, discordant voices, “Mangadto kitang tanan, sa mga bulak magdala, ihalad ta kang Maria…” (Let’s all go together, let’s bring flowers and offer them to Mary…). The strains of that song still ring vividly in my ears and never fail to evoke pleasant memories of the Flores de Mayo that I once knew.
The Mays of my childhood are long gone, but the memories linger and make me smile.
Delia T. Combista, 68, is a retired college professor.
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