‘Agua de Mayo’
The Good Life
with Eli F.J. Tajanlangit
It was no indication climate patterns have normalized, but the rains fell yesterday, the first of May, which had always had rains in the long ago years of our childhood. In fact, the old folks then welcomed the first rains of May as ‘Agua de Mayo’, the perfume of May, because that had meant summer and its scorching heat had ended and the wet season which meant planting time, began.
Well, yesterday’s rain, so we are told by authorities, was freaky in some ways. It certainly did not mean the end of summer, and not supposed to come. The forecast was, in fact, that yesterday would have been the hottest day in a season of hottest days, with the temperature expected to hit at least 37 degrees.
Well, what do you know, it seems like the heat of the past days had pushed too much water vapor up the atmosphere, and there formed dark, heavy clouds. I understand there were low pressure areas in Luzon as well as Mindanao and the rains fell on us as well.
The rains are just part of the stuff that makes May so much a walk back down memory lane, back to our past and to many of us, our childhood. I recall being told that the Agua de Mayo was blessings from the heaven, and that the priests collect it and bless it to be used as “bendita” or Holy Water the entire year. And so, it was one time when we played in the rain with a sense of piety and piousness, like we were being bathed in blessedness and our sins forgiven. To this day, I haven’t had the opportunity to check with our priests if there was some validity there.
But whether that spiritual angle is valid or not, our household also collected rainwater not just in May but all year through. This was our drinking water, until the hysteria about air pollution broke out in the 80s, and there were fears that rainwater was no longer pure and clean because the air it passed through was thick with pollutants.
The taste of rainwater, I guess, is one of the many things this generation will no longer know. It is sweet, light, and almost always cool, coming from the earthen jars where we kept it. I also remember it was used by the old women as pamunlaw, or finishing water, when they shampooed or bathed, because it left the hair soft and silky even without shampoo. It left a slippery feel, in fact, that rainwater cannot be used as pamunlaw for the body.
‘Agua de Mayo’ is just one of our wonderful memories of this month. The others I can remember right off are also Church-based: Flores de Mayo, or Flowers of May, a ritual that introduced many of us to the Marian devotion as children; and the Santacruzan, a reenactment of Helena’s search for the True Cross that was celebrated at month’s end.
There was really an incentive why we all loved the Flores: it meant not going to sleep after lunch. It meant looking for flowers to offer Mary, and it meant snacks outside of the home. And it meant collecting points that on the 31st will be exchanged for things.
Every afternoon, we’d trod to the churchyard a block away from our homes, and there listen to stories of Jesus Mary and Joseph and the saints. This was catechism, and although it also got boring, was always better than having to sleep.
After that, we’d line up and sing as we offer flowers to the Lady. I have very vivid memories of that, and to this day can still sing, anytime: “Kay rosal ka nga dili mapulak, nga sa langit guin tanum sang Diyos…”*
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