There's one thing you should know about outsourcing to the Philippines. There's a long list of official holidays each year, and many of them are a significant part of the Filipino culture. A perfect example is Holy Week.
Filipinos are serious about Holy Week, and committed to following traditional religious practices from Palm Sunday until Easter Sunday. Find out why it's so important to Filipinos and how you can compromise with your staff about showing up for work in the days running up to Easter.
Why is Holy Week a Big Deal in the Philippines?
Lenten practices are hugely important in the Philippines because more than 86% of the population are Roman Catholics. Moreover, these practices are ingrained into Filipino culture because of the Spanish colonization of the country for more than three hundred years.
Common Holy Week Practices in the Philippines
The season of Lent starts with Ash Wednesday when churchgoers line up to receive the mark of penance. The mark is a sign of the cross applied on the forehead using ash mixed with fragrant oil or Holy Water. For the next 40 days, Catholics who are 18 years and older - but do not belong to the elderly and sick - practice fasting and do not eat pork, chicken meat, and beef on Fridays before Easter.
On Palm Sunday, expect your Catholic staff members to troop to their local churches and attend mass with palm branches in hand. This day is commemorative of the day that Jesus returned to Jerusalem. He was welcomed by the people who laid palm branches at his feet as a symbol of his triumphant return to his birthplace.
When Maundy Thursday comes around, buses and ferries are fully-booked. Filipinos are going to be rushing home on that day to be with their loved ones for the long weekend.
On this day and until Friday, most Filipinos will be visiting 7 different churches. Some people choose to visit up to 14 churches. They either pray two stations of the cross for every church they visit or just one station at each church. This practice is known as Visita Iglesia in the vernacular.
Initially, the purpose of this Holy Week practice was to honor the Blessed Sacrament, when Jesus established the Sacrament of the Eucharist. It then morphed into a form of pilgrimage and meditation for the Holy Week, and also a form of seeking penance for sins. Superstition even has it that wishes would be granted upon completion of a Visita Iglesia.
While there are Spanish loan words included in the vernacular, don't expect Filipinos to be fluent in Spanish. The colonial Spaniards did not consider the natives worthy of receiving basic education. Filipinos learned to mimic the Spanish words used in response to the officiating friar during Mass, but few truly understood what they mean or how to use them in day-to-day conversation.
On Good Friday, some Filipinos would travel to far-flung places for a vacation, or go hiking up a mountain with friends. Others would rather spend time at a retreat house to pray and meditate. More than a few would watch the procession of flagellants and devotees in their hometowns. This procession often led to a reenactment of Christ's torturous journey from being judged unfairly in a mock trial with Pontius Pilate to being crucified on top of a barren hill.
At exactly 3 PM on Good Friday, the church bells would rang out as a sign that Jesus died.
On Black Saturday, every statue and image of Jesus would be covered with black cloth.
Other Holy Week practices that are particular to the Philippines:
- Bisita Iglesiya (Visita Iglesia), where the faithful visit 7 or 14 churches as they follow the way of the cross
- Senakulo (Cenáculo), which dramatizes the last few days of Jesus' life especially his passion and death
- Pabasa ng Pasyon, wherein the History of Salvation is chanted without pause using different tones as the suffering and death of Jesus is recounted in song form
- Salubong, which is the meeting of the resurrected Christ and His sorrowing mother Mary as the angels sing Gloria
- Siyete Palabras (Seven Last Words), held during the midday of Good Friday, where the seven last words of Jesus on the cross are the topic of different speakers on radio and TV
- The procession of the Santo Entierro (Holy Burial), which is the statue of the dead Jesus and is done right after the Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday
Why Should You Care?
These practices may not be of particular interest to foreign employers. Nonetheless, knowing why Filipinos practice them will lead to a better understanding why it's important for your outsourcing staff to take two or three days off during Holy Week.
Aside from giving your staff time off because of religious practices, the Philippine government also declared Maundy Thursday and Good Friday as regular holidays and Black Saturday as a special non-working holiday.
Outsourcing is not easy to manage when your staff members are thousands of miles away. It's even difficult when they have a different culture and follow different social norms. But, just because it's difficult it does not mean it's not worth doing at all.
Outsourcing can help your business survive whatever challenges that comes your way. And, it's a great opportunity to diversify your team and reap the benefits of a cross-cultural work environment. If this means that you have to let your Filipino staff rest for a couple of days during Holy Week, then so be it. Your Filipino staff will love you for it and they'll return to work with more vigor and determination to succeed.