Santakrusan is a month-long combination celebration of the veneration of the Holy Cross and harvest festival. Held in May when school is out and the rice harvest is just in, Santakrusan is popular with children because there is a party to go to almost every afternoon after playing in the sun. Fourteen empty crosses representing the 14 stations are taken in by various homes all over town every day of the month. In each of these houses, the people chant the story of St. Helena and the Crusaders' search for the True Cross. It's a long story, but after the search is over, the children get to respond in song at the veneration:
Krus na mahal,
Krus na mapalad,
Bandera ni Hesus
Pagsakop sa lahat!
(Holy Cross, blessed Cross, Noble weapon, Jesus' standard in saving mankind!)
When the chanting is done, everybody gets to eat. When I was a child, the most popular Santakrusan fare were "kalamay at arros caldo", "tutong", "halu-halo" and "puto at swatanghon."
Unlike other celebrations, Santakrusan's climax was at the start of the month - on the feast of Santa Elena (St Helena), May 3. In my time, the feast of Santa Elena was held on the first Sunday of May, when a young woman, dressed as the Queen St. Helena visited in a procession the 14 stations of the cross set up in decorated booths all over town. With her small son, the catechumen Emperor Constantine by her side, Queen Helena was escorted by a large retinue of small boys carrying spears, acting the role of crusaders. Each station was also decorated with various fruits, vegetables, rice crackers and candies hanging overhead. After the queen's visit, the children scrambled for their share of the bounty.
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