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Tuesday, June 3, 2014


Fiestas are Forever by Noel F. De Jesus
Give a Filipino a reason - any reason – to celebrate and you’ll soon have a fiesta in the making. Songs and laughter, food and frolic are part of the Philippines and its festivals. The festivals - or fiestas, as they are everywhere called – are woven deeply into the texture of life in every barangay, town, or city district of Roman Catholic Philippines – and that means almost all the islands of the archipelago and three-fourths of its population, for the country has been Roman Catholic in lifestyle and ritual for more that 450 years.

Through fiestas may be held anytime during the year, the biggest if not the best of them take place in May, the month between the harvest and the planting, when farmers – and fisherman and factory workers – take off for a well-earned rest and a bit of merrymaking. On May 15, farming communities in the Philippines, particularly those in southern Luzon, honor San Isidro Labrador, the patron saint of farmers, with exuberant displays of the fruit of the land. The displays are always extravagant, unrestrained. If the harvest were abundant, to do less would be considered ungrateful. And if the harvest were lean, the lavish display reminds that saint to do better by the farmers next year.

The display is called pahiyas. It simply means “décor” and implies that the harvest has been so abundant that ripe stalks, bright bunches of bananas, great bean pods, cascades of cherry tomatoes, everything grown and fruited of the land is so plentiful that it can be used for decoration. But however popular and important San Isidro may be in a still agricultural country, the greatest number of fiestas, one each day it is said, is celebrated in honor of Mary, Queen of May. Some are small, private affairs – like the daily offerings of flowers carried by little girls in the ritual called Flores de Mayo, the Flowers of May. Some are community-wide rituals, like the evening candlelight processions called Santa Cruz de Mayo, which commemorate Saint Helena’s finding of the cross on which Christ was crucified and which often combine a religious event with a beauty contest, since only the town’s most beautiful young woman is deemed worthy to portray St. Helena and only its handsomest young man her son, the Emperor Constantine.

There are other special festivals, peculiar to certain towns – like the Obando Festival, held on May 17, 18, and 19, in a rustic country town in Bulacan Province, about an hour’s drive from Manila. Everyone who goes to Obando – mostly elderly women and young wives who are imploring help from Mary, Saint Clare and Saint Pascual, the town patrons, that they might conceive and bear children – ding and dance to the melody of a tune so catching it has become a part of the Filipino child’s repertoire of nursery rhymes:
Philippine Panorama (16 Jan 2011, 22-23)
(Thanks to Noel de Jesus for this lively article about Philippine fiestas. Thanks too
to Jeramine for forwarding the article) New World republished

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