Flores de Mayo is a Catholic festival held in May. Some say that its culmination results in the Santacruzan but either the distinction has blurred significantly over the years or they're really separate feasts altogether (am more inclined to believe the latter).
The Santacruzan, I believe, is a procession borne from Catholic history, when St. Helena, upon her conversion to Christianity, went to Jerusalem to find the (or remnants) of the Holy Cross. She is the mother of Constantine. Thus, the Santacruzan's most coveted role is that of the Reyna Elena (some say the Reyna Emperatriz is a notch higher, but some perceive her as the mother of Reyna Elena) and she will always be carrying a cross and parading with a crown, and a Constantine (a little boy dressed in satin). The Santacruzan is basically a beauty pageant of sorts... where wealth and connections actually matter more than actual beauty.
Anyway... back to Flores de Mayo.
Flores de Mayo as I learned to know it from my relatives in Lipa and in the years I spent summer vacations there is a different feast. It celebrates Mary and she is appealed to for RAIN. Yes... rain for a bountiful harvest. Flowers feature a great deal in this feast.
In our town, the feast starts around nine days before April ends... which we call Krusada (notice the blurring of Catholic history there, since crusades are more connected with the finding of the Holy Grail, and should therefore be part of the Santacruzan). It's basically praying during a procession around town before the actual novena of prayers, songs and flower offerings at the TUKLONG (a small chapel).
A huge calendar of sorts is placed in the tuklong so people can commit to a day to be HERMANA. That basically means that for that day, you/your family will be in charge of providing flowers to be offered by everyone attending the novena that night... and also provide candles for the novena. They also help the Kapitanas clean the tuklong up. It has evolved into also including preparing merienda for the community (pancit or lugao with juice would suffice)... and then later on handing out candies after the novena (as a sort of reward to the prayerful).
Each Flores de Mayo month-long feast is managed by at least six people (the Kapitana sa Bulaklak, her Bise, the Kapitana sa Singsing, her Bise, the Presidente ng Kabataan and his Bise) and they all sort of report to the Katatandaan (there is also a President). The Kapitanas and their Bises (Captain and vice-captain) find their own flowers to offer (plus, they have these wooden fixtures shaped like crosses and hearts to attach their flowers to). After the transfer of crowns, the Kapitana's work starts... which is basically to lead the coming up of funds for the next Flores (holding disco nights at the town fiesta, going Christmas caroling or pangangaluluwa, etc.). They do receive a certain amount from the Katatandaan and other donations from the families in the community... but of course, they mostly spend their own money. The Presidente ng Kabataan (usually the Kapitana's partner at the Tapusan) helps raise funds (mostly collecting from his friends) for the fireworks and the meryenda.
The Kapitanas are usually the eldest daughter of the family... there is a master list where people sign up. My aunt was Kapitana sa Singsing before but none from our generation got recruited. People tried to pressure my Dad (esply since I was always there during vacation time) because we're pretty well-off and my grandparents' house was strategically built at a fork in the road... just in front of where they will permanently build the tuklong (which was pawid and wood before, and located some three mintes away). Anyway, my Mom was keen on the idea but it was an extravagance my Dad didn't welcome... he finds it absurd enough to be feeding people during the town fiesta (January 02) and he didn't want to invite more strangers into their family home.
The novena, like what I said, is composed of prayers, songs and flower offerings. Two of its major parts are the SABOG and the ALAY. The Sabog is where little girls with baskets of flower petals shower these on the statue of Mother Mary in time with a song.
Sa mahal mong noo'y aming ikakapit,
Lubos ang pag-asa nami't pananalig,
Na tatanggapin mo, handog na pag-ibig!
The Alay is where people line up to offer flowers to the statue, also in time with a song.
Palitan mo Birheng Mahal ng tuwa sa kalangitan
Before the first two weeks of May is finished, the HAMBO is held. In the olden days, people would walk to Tagbakin, a lake (extension of Taal lake actually) that's a few kilometers away. Now, people rode trucks and jeeps. There would be rosary praying and singing on the way to the lake... then most of the company would board bancas upon arriving there. The image of the Virgin Mary will be taken to two particular points in the lake to be bathed with water that was perfumed with flowers. The same water used to bathe the statue will be preserved in pails... and everyone will then bless themselves and the children with the water (usually by scooping up water and pouring it on your head while saying a prayer). Only after that can people bathe/swim in the lake. Lunch is prepared and cooked by men, there will be drinking and it will be a sort of community outing. Around 3 pm or so, we'd head back to the chapel and finish the prayers there.
Sure enough, the holding of the Hambo perfectly comes before the rains.
Now, the Tapusan of the Flores de Mayo is the grand culmination of the feast. Traditionally, the Kapitana sa Bulaklak shoulders the meals for everyone helping out at the event (from providing snacks to the adolescents who start grooming the arkos weeks before the finale), especially the grand lunch during the day (but of course, since pigs are already slaughtered the night before, the feast also starts then, with people helping out fed that night and also for breakfast). The Kapitana sa Bulaklak is also in-charge of beautifying the tuklong with flowers for the event, and decorating the karo which will bear the image of the Virgin. The Kapitana sa Singsing, on the other hand, shoulders the grand meryenda... after the SIBATAN.
Weeks before the tapusan, the Kapitana sa Singsing will go house to house asking for sponsors for the sibatan... who are generally single females. Monetary donations are welcome, but the sponsors are usually asked for a gift for those who will compete at the sibatan. I'm not exactly sure if they really started with sibats (a Filipino spear that's used as a a weapon or tool) but anyway, I know they started with men riding horses. Sibats are fashioned from wood, pencil-length and twice as thick, with one end trimmed in such a way that it will stop a ring it has speared. Boys and single men will then ride horses carrying this small sibat and try to spear one of the rings hung from a clothesline as they thunder through. The rings are made from kawayan (bamboo) that's about two inches thick and wrapped with a ribbon (bearing some maiden's name). I'm not exactly sure how these rings are strung but anyway, once someone has already speared the Kapitana sa Singsing's ring, the sibatan has come to an end. The boys pay a minimal fee, I think, to help raise funds for the next Kapitana... and given three attempts to get a ring. He'd then get the gift the sponsor gave as prize. Any remaining prize will be raffled off or given as a game prize at the party after the novena.
Note that a lot of the elements of this feast is also like a mating ritual of sorts... since it's usually single men and women who are involved. But of course, traditions evolve. Some families enlist their daughters even when they're still young (which can be weird, because a girl of 10 cannot really handle the responsibility, nor enjoy the pomp and attention). And because the roads were cemented, we stopped using horses... and the boys rode bikes instead.
After meryenda, people will then go home to prepare for the grand procession complete with musiko (band). Boys and girls (and teenage men and women) who have gowns or barongs can all attend the procession. Of course, the Kapitanas try to get people to commit beforehand so that the town will have something to watch during the procession aside from the images and the prayerful. We term this PAGSASAYA and PAGBABARONG. I only did this once, at my first summer then, mainly because I wanted to parade around town with my then boyfriend (my guy cousin partnered with a friend behind us, and harped on my dress the entire procession). I was supposed to do it again when the Kapitana was my cousin's (same cousin who annoyed me so) girlfriend but it rained so much so I opted to not join the procession anymore. Oh and yes, everybody's hardpressed to get the guys to 'dress up'... so it's not unusual to find a girl parading alone. The men will only usually dress up if they're in a relationship with a girl, or courting her (and it's actually funny how they'd go around loaning/borrowing pants, barongs and shoes among their peers).
Last Tapusan, one of my nieces (who had a gown from being a flower girl at a recent wedding) joined the procession. The other cried so much so she and her brother didn't join. And most unfortunately enough, we only arrived in time for the Mass (held after the procession), thus... no pictures :)
Anyway, after the procession comes the Mass... then the novena. This time, however, only six girls, dressed in white, will be throwing flowers. And this time, unlike the many nights that came before, everyone turns up to offer flowers... even the men! See, on most novena nights, men usually just hovered outside the chapel (awaiting their candy, just hanging out with the menfolk, waiting to bring their mothers, sisters or girl-interest home) and they seldom offered flowers.
During the PUTONG, basically the transfer of crowns from the Kapitanas to the Bise, fireworks are lit (some men also fire guns). This marks the end of the feast... after which, people are enjoined again to eat meryenda at the former Kapitana sa Bulaklak's house. Traditionally too, a disco (dancing) is held at the Kapitana's place (but now I hear it has evolved into hiring bands or acoustic performers instead since barrio-youth are hardpressed to dance anymore).
That's also actually one of the reasons why they kept recruiting me before... because my grandparents' house had a long, cemented driveway (with a roof!) conducive to partying... whereas other homes have to level their dirt yards to create a space for the cooking, the eating and the dancing.
My cousin (same annoying cousin) ended up marrying the former Kapitana... and since her father is known to be pretty rich, her family has enlisted her youngest sister to be Kapitana again. Hubby enjoyed the little he's seen of this particular feast so we agreed to be more involved next year. I promise to take more pictures, and force all my nieces and nephews to parade (which is inevitable because Kia is aunt to three of them).
In the meantime, I hope this shows the fun we still managed to have :)