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Flores de Mayo in the new millennium

May 19, 2019

In the Philippines, devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary reaches its crescendo in May with the month-long celebration of Flores de Mayo. Literally meaning “flowers of May” in Spanish, the country’s “festival of all festivals” traces its beginnings just after the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854.

In 1865, Filipino priest Mariano Sevilla wrote “Dalit kay Maria,” the vernacular for Flores de Mayo, based on Italy’s “Misa de Maggio.” He based what would become a church tradition on prayers and hymns he had written before, which was first performed as a whole at the Church of Nuestra Señora De La Asuncion in his hometown of Bulacan.

For his deep devotion to the patroness, Sevilla aimed to propagate the offering of the most beautiful and most special flowers to the Virgin Mary every day for the entire month of May.

Moreover, his translation of the devotional “Flores de Maria (Flowers of Mary)” in 1867 strengthened the adoration for the Lord’s mother, with the longer title of the publication expressing, “Mariquit na Bulaclac na sa Pagninilaynilay sa Buong Buan nang Mayo ay Inihahandog nang Manga Devoto cay Maria Santisima (Beautiful Flowers that in the Meditations in the Whole Month of May are Offered by Devotees to Mary Most Holy).”

Mark Gabriel Luancing and Sarina Paez Santiago in Renee Salud.

The practice spread throughout Catholic Philippines with processions of beautiful ladies representing Mary as sagalas — literally “maidens in queenly attire” — culminating on the last day of the month, which is the grand feast of the Coronation of the Blessed Virgin as Queen of Heaven and Earth, alongside the Santacruzan. (See Sidebar)

Gretchen Ho and escort Job Abogado in Paul Semira.

Processions are led by a priest with a company of sacristans and a live brass band playing “Ave, Ave, Ave Maria” and “Dios Te Salve (Hail Mary).”

Grandest celebration

Outside Bulacan, one of the grandest celebrations of Flores de Mayo goes back some 40 years, when acknowledged Dean of Philippine Fashion Ben Farrales founded the Flores de Mayo at The Manila Hotel in 1979, which combined the grand Filipino tradition with fashion, artistry and culture. It was organized under the Congregacion del Santisimo Nombre del Niño Jesus or devotees of the Child Jesus.

The country’s ‘festival of all festivals’ as devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary traces its beginnings just after the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854.

Merged with a designers competition, the very first winner of the pageantry was Danny dela Cuesta, who went full circle when he sat as one of the judges at the event revival following a lull at the start of the new millennium.

“I won [Best Designer Award] in the first and 17th editions. I made my mark as fashion designer in The Manila Hotel Flores de Mayo, but I eventually shifted careers when I won a culinary contest,” dela Cuesta, who is now a chef at Malacañang, intimated to The Sunday Times Magazine.

Fashion designer-cum-beauty salon guru Fanny Serrano with model Ameera Johara and escort Raphael Leuterio.

During that time, dela Cuesta recalled how The Manila Hotel Flores de Mayo was the most anticipated event of the social scene come May, given the participation of the fairest Filipinas as sagalas year after year. They would comprise beauty queens, models, actresses and other young prominent personalities, and escorted by equally good looking eligible gentlemen.

Asked why the event went into hiatus for a good number of years, Manila Hotel president Joey Lina told The Sunday Times Magazine there was an unfortunate incident during a particular parade that discouraged designers to participate again.

The Manila Hotel President Joey Lina (fourth from left) with the panel of judges composed of (from left) Danny dela Cuesta, Barge Ramos (chairman), Malu Veloso, Grace Franciso-Torres and Minnie Atienza. Not in photo is resident manager Chris Orta.

Thankfully, the capital’s foremost Flores de Mayo was revived this year when The Manila Hotel partnered with the Designers Circle Philippines (DCP) and the Office of the Mayor of Manila for “Pagsulyap sa mga Reyna: Flores de Mayo at The Manila Hotel.” Thirty designers participated in the much awaited comeback showcasing designs inspired by 19th century traje de mestizas.

Among the sagalas in the first edition of the revival were ABS-CBN newscaster-volleybelle Gretchen Ho wearing a gown by Paul Semira, beauty queen-newscaster Tina Marasigan in Glenn Lopez, Catwalk Philippines 2018 grand winner Eloisa Jauod in Francis Calaquian, Miss Philippines Earth 2016 Sheena Dalo in Ole Morabe, and GMA artist Ameera Johara in Fanny Serrano and escorted by Raphael Leuterio.

Designer Circle Philippines members who participated in the Flores de Mayo at The Manila Hotel revival.

“It’s good na na-revive because sobrang saya ang Flores de Mayo sa Manila Hotel. Iikot sa kahabaan ng Roxas Boulevard [and other thoroughfares] at punumpuno ng mga tao both sides [of the road],” highly respected fashion designer-cum-beauty salon guru Fanny Serrano reminisced.

He said he first joined the procession with actress-beauty queen Charlene Gonzalez, the country’s representative to the Miss Universe 1994 pageant, as his model, with Filipino-American model-actor Troy Montero as her escort.

Serrano noted, however, that for the first edition revival, veteran designers like himself, Renee Salud, Johnny Abad (Designers Circle Philippines co-founder and president), Roland Lirio, Alfie Ong, Malu Veloso and Edgar San Diego only joined for exhibition purposes.

Mujica, Emmanuelle, Rangel, Mark Kevin Baloaloa, ‘Bituin ng Gabi’ Samantha Lo, Edwin Uy, ‘Natatanging Ginoo’ Aaron de Tomasso and ‘Magandang Paraluman’ Sheena Dalo.

“Part of our ‘promise’ to the younger designers when they joined DCP was exposure, and that we, the veterans, would support them. In fact, we told them na ipakita nila ang kanilang talent to the best of their ability, huwag silang mag-alinlangan na ipagyabang ang kanilang kakayahan, higitan nila kami,” the popular fashion and beauty personality, who is currently DCP vice president, added.

Santacruzan passé to millennials

While Flores de Mayo is a native Filipino tradition, the Santacruzan on the other hand was established by the Spaniards when they colonized the archipelago.

From the Spanish term santa cruz or holy cross, Santacruzan reenacts the search of the True Cross by Roman Empress Helena (known as Reyna Elena), mother of Constantine the Great.

Models Gemma Heaton, Cecil de Castro Alviz, Unilever Philippines PR Head for Personal Care Apples Aberin and Stephanie Magali all in Ben Farrales during the launch of Flores de Mayo 2013 with the theme ‘Colors of Mindanao’ held at the Casino Español in Manila. THE MANILA TIMES FILE PHOTO

A religious-historical beauty pageant held in both big and small cities and towns around the country, the Santacruzan emerged as part of Filipino traditions associated with youth, love and romance. It is said to have its roots in joyous thanksgiving celebrations following the discovery of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem (Israel) and its journey to Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey).

Whereas the Santacruzan was more of a religious rite before World War 2 with Biblical characters as Matusalem (Methuselah), Esther, Ruth, Naomi, Maria Magdalena (Mary Magdalene), Maria Salome as part in the procession, the tradition has long been lost along the way with participants focusing more on the glamour of the event with their grand gowns rather than representing characters from the Scriptures.

Leandro Mujica and Maxine Nicole Rangel win the Vestido Filipino Award for Santa Emmanuelle.

“Nagbago na after the war, maybe in the 1960s. Gusto lang kasi nila na maganda sila. Dito nga [in the Manila Hotel revival] of the Santacruzan I was assigned [to dress] Reyna Baderada (Queen with a Banner). When we pitched [the other names] to our [50 to 60] members ayaw nila. Gusto nila lumabas ang kanilang artistry sa damit na suot ng mga sagala. And this is the same thing around the country,” Serrano further told The Sunday Times Magazine, adding that there should hardly be fashion showcase in Reyna Justicia (Queen of Justice), for example.

“Flores de Mayo is here to stay though because mahilig tayong mga Pilipino sa magaganda. Mawala man ang characters na dapat kasama sa Santacruzan, hindi mawawala ang pagnanais natin na iparada ang ating magagandang dilag at likha ng designers. Sa mga sinaunang Santacruzan, nire-reserve ang Reyna Elena sa anak ng pulitiko o galing sa angkan ng mga maykapangyarihan sa bayan. Walang ganun sa Flores de Mayo,” he said.

Asked to comment on the practice of the LGBT community who hold their own Marian parades, Serrano said that it is their right to express what to them is beautiful, finding nothing wrong with it, give or take the religious aspect of the celebration.

Other venues

The Congregacion del Santisimo Nombre del Niño Jesus under Farrales, however, continued the Marian tradition even when The Manila Hotel stopped holding the event. In 2013, they held it at Casino Español, also in the capital, with the theme “Colors of Mindanao.”

Last year, on its 39th edition, it was held at the Music Hall of the Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena. Termed as another sagalahan, the hermanos and hermanas included businessman-philanthropist Nelson Mendoza, beauty queen-restaurateur Jessica Maloles and entrepreneur Milagros Hao.

Miss International 2018 First Runner-Up Ahtisa Manalo, Miss Multinational 2018 Sophia Señoron, Miss Global Philippines 2017 Mary Ann Moncal and Bb. Pilipinas-Supranational 2014 Yvette Marie Santiago were among the beauties who paraded in glitzy ternos and Filipiniana gowns from the country’s top designers.

Tourism Queen of the Year 2016 Leren Mae Bautista who wore Chico Estiva was unanimously chosen Rosa Mistica; Miss Lumiere International 2017 First Runner-Up Sammy Ann Legaspi in Ole Morabe was adjudged Reina de las Flores; model Sirene Sutton in Paolo Blanco was named La Flor de Manila; and Kitkat Yuiki in Quitco was chosen as La Flor De Pasay.

Parish practice

In some parts of the Philippines, particularly in Visayas and Christian Mindanao, children attend catechism classes throughout the month to learn about the Virgin Mary and novenas, prayers and other teachings surrounding the Mother of Jesus, including the apparition of Our Lady of Fatima, which took place on May 13, 1917.

At the end of the day’s session, children sing ‘Ave Maria’ and offer flowers to the statue of the Blessed Mother as symbol of love, affection and veneration. On the last day of the month, one girl is chosen as “Rose of May” and another as Reyna Elena. Participants are finally given presents like notebooks, pens, crayons and prayer books that they can use for the coming school year.

Batangas, particularly Lipa, has its unique way of honoring the Blessed Mother. Called “Luglugan,” devotees offer flowers and prayers to a Virgin Mary image in structures called tuklong. After prayers, hermanos or hermanas for the day give away treats to participants and mount a party. The Tapusan (ending) on the last day of May is marked with a mass, a Santacruzan and procession, followed by a final Luglugan lasting until the following morning.

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