Why Philippine Fiestas Are So Important to Filipinos
They say the Philippines is one of the countries with the most number of festivals in the world. Did you know there are more than 42,000 known major and minor festivals in the Philippines? Due to the thousands of town, city, provincial, national, and barangay feasts in the country, the Philippines attracts tourists both locally and internationally, with as much as 3.5 million attendees in Sinulog alone.
What’s with the hype? Why are festivals so important to the Filipinos? In this article, let’s explore a bit of history and culture to answer these questions.
The Importance of Philippine Fiestas to the Filipino
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Locally known as fiestas (pista, when Filipinized), feasts are always attributed to Christianity. This dates back to the Spanish colonial period when the many communities of the predominantly Catholic Philippines had a patron saint assigned each. But the celebration of festivals and many aspects of this tradition have actually long existed in pre-colonial times.
Appeasing the gods
The Filipinos have long been religious, even before the arrival of Spanish influence. Ancient Filipino religious beliefs centered on worshiping gods and goddesses and ancestors who control certain aspects of life and nature—livelihood, family, health, wealth, fortune, the seas, the sky, death, etc. To make life better, ancient Filipinos offered regular ritual offerings and dances to these deities. The ancient Filipinos believed that the smallest mistakes quickly angered some gods and goddesses. They believed these deities vented their wrath on livelihood and nature. Kaptan, the supreme god of the Visayans, for example, was described as impulsive and easily displeased, and his favorite weapon of punishment is his devastating lightning bolts.
Some of these ancient ceremonies were for the benefit of individuals or kindred, some were by nature seasonal, and some sought relief from a public crisis like drought or pestilence. The practice was soon encouraged by the Spanish to coincide with Christian holy days as vital instruments in spreading Christianity throughout the country. The Spanish replaced the natural domain of the ancient deities with a patron saint’s similar function (e.g., the god of valleys and plains replaced by the patron saint of the environment). Evidently, the celebration of the modern Filipino festival is already a mixture of both their deeply ingrained polytheist and Catholic beliefs. That is why until today, one of the most celebrated reasons of Philippine fiestas is still to stave off calamities and ill luck, give thanks for good harvests, or promote the locality’s most abundant product.
Asking for favors
Philippine fiestas are like investments in their faith. Filipinos celebrate grandly to ensure a good life ahead. The bigger money poured out for Philippine fiestas, the surer the return of these “investments.” So for a higher “return of investment,” a devotee should spend more to celebrate a fiesta. Smaller investments result in smaller yields.
If one wishes for more harvests from the fields, more catch from the sea, more luck in business or employment, physical healing, or more rain, then one ought to offer more quality meals in a fiesta. If one’s really financially struggling, then the alternative is to have active parts in the celebration. Dance in the streets, help carry or pull a mounted statue, help in the fiesta preparations, or behave well throughout the celebration. And here’s the key to all these: the devotee has to pledge or promise to keep this going in annual Philippine fiestas. A popular example would be the belief of completing the misa de gallo or the novena masses in honor of Santo Niño so that the devotee’s wish may be granted. These are still an apparent combination of ancient and Catholic beliefs.
The more recent reason for celebrating is to commemorate local history, like Lapu Lapu’s victory against Magellan. National artists always express how the long periods of colonization have fragmented the sense of identity of the Filipino people. One of the efforts of the government to keep culture appreciation intact is to remember an ancestor’s lasting legacy. The Haladaya Festival of Daanbantayan is a celebration “in honor of” St. Rose of Lima. But actually, it is a dance and thanksgiving for Datu Daya. In fact, Haladaya came from halad kang Datu Daya (an offering for Datu Daya). Datu Daya defended the town from the harassment and attacks of Moro pirates in ancient times, making Daanbantayan a progressive town.
Close family ties
The Filipino family consists of many traditional values that have been treasured and passed on for many generations. The Filipino puts a great emphasis on the value of family and being close to one’s family members. Unlike Western countries, Filipinos who turn 18 do not move out of their parents’ home. Filipino society looks down upon the practice of separating the elderly from the rest of the family. Family lunches with the whole clan of up to 50 people are not unusual.
Philippine fiestas unite families in celebration. Even Filipinos working abroad or living in another city visit their families during fiestas. These balikbayans often bring with them pasalubong to share during meals.
Foreigners who come to visit the Philippines speak of Filipinos going out of their way to help them. Filipino families even host strangers in their poverty-stricken homes. During fiestas, this Filipino value becomes more evident when families host grand free meals extending outdoors for all neighbors. Even strangers are welcome! It is common to hear hosts offering more food when they see a visitor almost finishing their meal. Filipinos generally yearn to be accepted and well-liked among their peers. This applies to relationships with friends, colleagues, bosses, and even relatives. This desire steers one to get along with others and fosters general cooperation, leading others to view them favorably. Because of these cultural traits, Filipinos value festivals and minor feasts with all their hearts.
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