Filipinos are very complacent and fatalistic people. There are easily satisfied and contented with the life given to them by their creator. It is in the way they triumph like reeds over oak trees after a devastating storm; it is in going with the flow and swaying with the wind that make them a distinct people. The dust in the barrios, the pest-attacked crops, the stench of garbage reaching the nostrils of the slums, the whole monotony of putting up with the challenges of life are all taken in by the Filipinos not with angst but with contentment. And yet, town fiestas that are lavishly thrown obviously exceed the family budget for basic necessities for a whole year.
Town fiestas are not times for wallowing in poverty. It is a time when financial crisis is forgotten and the Filipinos seem to acquire Herculean strength enough to move heaps of credits that had taken its toll through the years out of their minds an lure some unlucky lender to loan them a few thousands just so a handful of friends and bucketful of strangers-a.k.a.-opportunists could forage on afritada, dinuguan, adobo, humba and other Filipino gourmet classics. Of the course, a pig roasted to crispness called lechon never loses its place on top of the list of the Filipino palate.
Sometimes the food, the drinks, the drunken revelry afterwards and the kalingawan, -- peryahan, pageantries graced with beautiful town lasses, circus carnivals, and drum and bugle corp with lovely majorettes parading on the streets shaded with colorful buntings—could be so intoxicating that the people tend to forget what fiestas are all about.Fiestas are held to honor a town’s patron saint. The Philippines being a Catholic country allowed the tradition of holding fiestas thrive despite the fact that it has been a century since we were let out of the Spaniard’s cage. But don’t get me wrong. Fiestas (Filipino style) were not Spanish-born. It is a fusion of Spanish influence and pagan traditions deeply embedded in the Filipino culture. Fiestas are the Filipino version of Thanksgiving in the United States. And there is so much to thank for – abundant harvests, new births, and even misfortunes are blessings for a Filipino. Fiestas also features reenactments of the patron saint’s life.
A typical fiesta lasts up to beyond a week. Cultural shows, native product exhibits, and traditional games just can’t be squeezed in the a couple of days that it has to be extended.
Sto. Niño is the patron saint of many places in the Philippines. Exuberant fiestas are celebrated in his name. Held annually every 3rd Sunday of January, the Sinulog in Cebu is widely participated in by locals and foreigners alike. The street dance with a general step of gesticulating and shuffling is said to grant prayers when performed with hundreds of performers garbed in native costumes throughout the streets of metropolitan Cebu. Another fiesta dedicated to the Sto, Niño is the Ati-atihan Festival in Kalibo, Aklan. It is considered as lavish as the Mardi gras in South America. People would dance in the streets of Aklan to the rhythmic beating of the drums. Ati-atihan, like in Cebu, is also celebrated every 3rd Sunday of January.
Perhaps the biggest fiesta in Manila, the feast of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, Manila is frequented by more than a hundred thousand devotees every 2nd Tuesday of January. Throngs of people outdo each other in touching the life-size statue of the Black Nazarene on a gilded carriage being paraded in the streets of Quiapo on shoulders of men.
San Isidro Labrador’s Feast day is also a big celebration. Two celebrations, the Carabao Festival in Pulilan, Bulacan and the Pahiyas Festival in Tayabas, Quezon are done in honor of him. The Carabao Festival is one-of-a-kind fiesta as it features carabaos decorated with intensely hued handcrafted decorations paraded around town and ending at the church. The carabaos would then kneel as a priest blesses them. The Pahiyas on the other hand is also a big festival in its own right. Houses would be embellished in big handcrafted flowers as a form of thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest of flowers, fruits, vegetables and crops.
“Santa Clarang pinong-pino, ang panagko ko ay ganito: pagdating kop o sa Obando ay magsasayaw ng Pandanggo.” So goes the song chanted by childless women while dancing Pandanggo to get a favor from Santa Clara to fulfill their wish of justifying the essence of being a woman. Husbands would sometimes even join their wives in dancing in the streets of the small town of Obando in Bulacan to ensure that their prayers would be heard.
The Cagayan de Oro Festival in honor of its patron Saint San Agustin though not as distinct from the typical Filipino fiesta is still witnessed by a myriad of people living around the mountain—and coast-locked city in Northern Mindanao. Its pageantry of beautiful girls is a highlight and is even juried by national politicians and elites. The fluvial procession along the Cagayan de Oro River ending at the San Agustin Cathedral attracts young and old alike borne on festooned bangkas gliding along the river.
The nearby city of Malaybalay literally nestled on mountains also has a grand fiesta to boast about. The Kaamulan Festival honored the presence of the royalty of the indigenous people of Bukidnon.
These are just a few of perhaps more than a thousand fiestas that dominate the Filipino life. Today, these fiestas are not only events to satisfy the tummy. It has also become a medium for economic development. The Philippine government specifically the Department of Tourism is mass-promoting these events globally under the banner “WOW Philippines.”
The Philippines is not the only country in the world that celebrates fiestas. Catholic countries like Spain and Mexico have their own fiestas patterned after their respective cultures.
If a foreigner wants to plunge himself into pure Filipino culture, he only has to witness any of spectacles brought in by the many fiestas held in every town and city in the Philippines one after the other for a whole year, depending on their patron saint’s day, and I am confident to say that everything that he has seen in a single fiesta is just a few samplings of the wide array of cultural traits that this country has.
Fiesta celebrations are not just links of us modern-day Filipinos to our roots; it is the soul of our culture; it is the thing that keeps us united; it is our way of life. The diverse trait that our culture has engraved in the way we do fiestas Filipino- style is what makes it truly a Pinoy trademark (Pinoy™).
Life’s full of surprises and nothing beats in giving surprises than the varied culture of the Filipinos.
Photo Credits: Google™
Photo Credits: Google™