Crucifixions, egg hunts and penance: Easter festivals in Asia

CRUCIFIXIONS, Roman soldier reenactments and fleet blessings are just some of the unusual events taking place in Asia this Easter season.

While Asia doesn’t have as many Easter traditions as perhaps parts of the West, there are significant Catholic and Christian populations that do commemorate the season.

Here are some of the more interesting events taking place around the region in coming weeks.

Pic: dontrivino.com

Moriones Festival, Marinduque, Philippines
This colourful Easter festival reenacts the story of Longinus, the Roman centurion who speared Jesus on the cross. Moriones, masked and costumed penitents, march around for seven days on the lookout for Longinus.

There are plenty of antics and lots of Roman costumes and it culminates on Good Friday with a reenactment of the spearing moment. During the festival there may also be men carrying crosses and occasionally a crucifixion.

Pic: by ponslizares courtesy Tourism Philippines

Maleldo, Pampagna, Philippines
This is possibly the most gruesome Easter festival held anywhere in the world. It takes place in Barangay San Pedro Cutud and actually involves a crucifixion, sometimes several.

The penitents, who can number up to 20, reenact the walk of Calvary and are actually nailed to a cross with nails disinfected in alcohol. They come down when they feel they have atoned for their sins. Others flagellate themselves or wear crowns of thorns and there is much religious fervor.

Catholic Church in Panjim. Pic: Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com

Easter and Carnival, Goa, India
Goa is a Catholic state and so Easter is a big deal here. Worshipers fill the liberal sprinkling of whitewashed churches across the region and there are various masses (often at midnight), pealing bells and rites over the Easter weekend. It’s a colourful time to be in the beach state. However, some of the more interesting events are held in the lead-up to Lent.

As in Spain and Italy, Carnival is widely celebrated here. The three day festival of Carnival is a hedonistic celebration featuring songs, music, dancing, merriment, parades and much mayhem. The parades normally work their way through small towns and villages with people following on bicycles and motorbikes. The biggest parades are held in the capital Panjim.

Priests preparing to bless the fleet in Uladulla at the Blessing of the Fleet festival. Pic: Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com

Blessing of the Fleet, Uladulla, Australia
Like all western nations, Australia celebrates Easter. You’ll find everything from traditional masses and church services to Easter egg hunts, picnics and some popular annual festivals and shows. A difference here is that Australia promotes the Easter bilby rather than the bunny, as the bilby is an endangered species.

Sydney’s Royal Easter Show is always held over the weekend, other signature events include Byron Bay’s Blues and Roots Festival and Easter in the Country with signature rodeo, goat races and markets in Roma, Queensland.

However one event with a real difference is Uladulla’s Blessing of the Fleet festival in which a priest daubs fishing boats with holy water. The festival is rooted in its Italian community’s tradition of calling on Providence to protect ships and crews on the seas. St. Peter, the patron saint of fishermen, also watches over proceedings which include the holy water blessing but also a beauty contest, fireworks, music, food and various games.

Chinese eggs. Pic: blog.asiahotels.com

China
While China does not acknowledge the Christian origins of Easter, they do celebrate the season of spring with the gifts of eggs. These symbolize life, rebirth and fertility. The eggs are painted and given as gifts.