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Art meets religion: Kawit’s unique Christmas tradition

Christmas—a time of togetherness and rejoicing. In the municipality of Kawit, Cavite, there exists an artistic tradition of devotion and community.

For many Filipinos, Christmas Eve follows a dedicated formula–noche buena platters are passed around the table as children watch the clock strike midnight and gifts wait to be unwrapped. Yet in Kawit, Cavite, the night paints a different picture. “Wala kami sa bahay, [nasa] kalye kami,” imparts Rhouz Camposanto, a Kawit tourism officer.

(We’re not in the house, we’re on the streets.)

The retelling of the Christmas story often ends with an abstract gospel message woven into the Christmas Eve mass, but for people in Kawit, the narrative comes to life with pockets of Nazareth staged for all to see. Through a tradition only they can call their own, Kawiteños are determined to keep the Christmas spirit alive.

Tales from heaven

Through a collection of carriages, each barangay is tasked to display a scene in the Bible, concluding with the advent of Jesus. Adorned in Biblical garments, portrayers of the Scriptural characters stay posed for the whole procession as the ornamented floats make their way through Kawit. “It’s like an editorial,” Camposanto conveys in Filipino. “For example, for Adam and Eve, their theme is a forest, so Eve wears an outfit embellished with leaves.”

Titled the Maytinis, the event proudly stands as a labor of love from Kawit natives. Preparations are done months in advance, requiring a guild of stage designers, couturiers, performers, and organizers to lend their talents to the celebration. “There are so many volunteers, from those who place the paper mache [onto] the floats, those who paint, and those who help carry [the materials],” Camposanto elaborates in Filipino.

Sisley Sanares, a Kawit resident, recalls once staging the reimagined scene of the Annunciation in a grassy field. “When I first participated in the Maytinis [as a child], I portrayed a shepherd,” details Sanares. “My younger self gravitated towards the Maytinis floats [because] the Bible doesn’t have any visualizations.”

This meticulous process is a product of the ever-evolving Maytinis, which was once just a solemn chant that existed even before Kawiteño hero Emilio Aguinaldo. Despite the passage of time, Sanares articulates that the purpose of the Maytinis is “to unite the people by bringing life to the stories of the Bible”.

Outside the limelight

Behind the colorful floats and lively parades, the parade’s organizers have their fair share of hurdles to clear before successfully pulling off the much-awaited Christmas event. 

Camposanto divulges that he felt the weight of responsibility while deliberating on the event’s annual theme. “Syempre kailangan mo [itugma] ‘yung theme ‘dun sa decor [o] ‘dun sa mensahe ng homily ni Father.” He also recounts ensuring that every design and detail was presentable when heading the committee for last year’s souvenir program. “I organized everything, including the layout, because the attendees will keep these. Everything is here, including the history of Maytinis and event details,” he divulges in Filipino. 

(Of course, I need to align the theme with the decorations and even to the homily of our priest.)

Meanwhile, undertaking the role of a Biblical character during the parade of floats requires serious dedication. Sanares points out that the procession’s long duration tends to be exhausting, as the participants can barely eat, drink, or go to the bathroom. “It took so long because there were a bunch of floats in front of my own, and all of them were going at a slow pace,” she remembers. Portraying a character also meant that she had to be stationary to maintain her pose, “Doing this for a long time strained my body,” she admits. 

Since the parade of these characters is highly anticipated, Camposanto observes that some people tend to view the Maytinis as merely a festival and display of art. “Hindi langto fashion show. Kasi yung mga tao pupuna ng ang ganda ng damit, [o] ang pangit naman nito’,” he laments. Sadly, some onlookers even throw negative comments on the appearances of the characters’ portrayers, such as those of Adam and Eve. 

(This is not a mere fashion show. But some people would even critique, ‘This outfit is nice [or that] is is ugly.’)

The religious aspect of the event is often overlooked. “We want to educate people [on] what Maytinis is,” Camposanto posits. At its core, the celebration is a commemoration of Christ’s birth. “Sana naipapahatid din sa [mga tao] na yung center ng celebration [ay] si Jesus na nandun sa belen naghihintay [para] sa pagbabago ng mga tao,” he adds. 

(We want people to know that Jesus is the center of the celebration and His Nativity calls for people to change.)

Beyond the festivities

Looking past the extravagant floats and lively cheers of the people watching as the parade passes by their houses, the Maytinis evidently holds more meaning and purpose than just the merriment and spectacle it holds. Camposanto conveys that the Maytinis has always been a religious practice as a testament of the Kawiteños’ faith in the Church. “I believe that the Kawiteño value of devotion can be witnessed during this celebration because we invest so much time and effort into visualizing and acting out biblical scenes,” Sanares expresses.

Aside from the Maytinis’ religious background and significance, the tradition exemplifies notable traits that Kawiteños are said to possess. Camposanto shares in Filipino, “the Maytinis is able to bring out locals’ accommodating nature by welcoming tourists and wholeheartedly encouraging them to partake in the holiday festivities.”

The Maytinis has also become a platform for natives to share their own artistic gifts. Making the floats and the props needed for the festivities reconnects Kawiteño artists with the various biblical stories in order to encapsulate them into captivating forms of art fit for the festivities. Through this, the artists are able to express their devotion. “Creating art for God brings the artist closer to Him because, at that moment, they’re both creators who are inspired by love,” Sanares faithfully reflects.

Although the Christmas spirit eventually dwindles down and the holiday festivities come to an end, in the eyes of those who have grown alongside this annual tradition, the Maytinis is more than just a vivid Filipino festival meant to celebrate the joyous holidays. It is a reflection of the Kawiteños’ long history of devotion to the Catholic faith and its teachings, perfectly blended with their own warm and communal nature and their love for the arts.

By Crysha Juliana Dela Pena

By Laurence Pontejos

By Summer Sanares

One reply on “Art meets religion: Kawit’s unique Christmas tradition”

One proud Mamma here! Congratulations Summer, Sisley,
La Sallian staff!! Proud Caviteno and angel of the Immaculate Conception float, 1979! 😉

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