LAST Tuesday was the start of the “Festa Major de Gracia” here in Barcelona, Spain. This week-long celebration, which starts on the Feast of the Assumption (August 15), reminds me of the “fiestas” that we observe in the Philippines.
In the early sixties, my parents would drive the family to Sto. Domingo, Ilocos Sur or would bus or fly us off to Isabela almost every month of May each year to attend a week-long fiesta where we would meet relatives and new friends who would also come home for vacation from their schooling in Manila to attend the fiesta.
Fiestas were always an event that we children looked forward to because of the many activities where we could enjoy ourselves, like going to the ferias or carnival rides; eat at friends or neighbours’ houses where everyone was welcome to eat; climb your favourite fruit trees like lomboy, sineguelas, etc; and in the evenings, listen to scary stories of our Lelong Valentin who would also drive us to Vigan to a relative’s house for merienda of halo-halo and pinipig and bring us to the beach for swimming and feasting on fresh sea foods, including tirem with bagoong and kamatis. My siblings and cousins would sneak out to a nearby stage show and watch our Manong Carlos do his thing in a Zarzuela. Us kids also had to attend a procession and a holy mass. I remember that our car was always filled with fruits- lomboy, sarguelas, mangoes, and rice cakes – bibingka, patopat and tinubong, as we returned to Baguio.
As to attending fiestas in Ilagan, Isabela, the family would ride on a bus from Baguio that would take us more than ten hours to reach Ilagan, until the Philippine Airlines opened a flight from Baguio to Cauayan, Isabela. From Cauayan, our Tito Pepe, who worked with the Tabacalera, would fetch us and drive us for about an hour to Ilagan. Like in Sto. Domingo, fiestas in Ilagan would also last for a week with the same neighbourhood hospitality and welcome and the carnival grounds filled with rides and games with prizes.
Our Tita Nenita (who later on became vice-mayor in Ilagan) was a great cook and our other titas and titos would visit often during fiesta to taste her embutido, beef stew, cochinillo asado, etc. We were also regaled with Tita Nenita’s songs accompanying herself on the piano and my dad joining her in duets of love songs, like Besame Mucho, Dahil Sa Iyo, Indian Love Call, Inamorata, etc. The elders loved to tell stories while having their drinks; while us children hid off to the carnival or did some parlor games. We joined the processions too that ended in mass at the St. Ferdinand Church. We would also go home with a kaing or two of Indian mangoes.
Fiestas are of Spanish origin. When Spain, which is a Roman Catholic country, subjugated the Philippines for 333 years, Spanish missionaries were brought into the country. They built churches in populated communities and towns and named the churches after saints, but mostly after the Blessed Virgin Mary or her husband St. Joseph. Soon, each saint for whom a church was named after became the patron saints of the respective communities or towns where they were erected. In order to attract the people to the said community, as well as the people in neighbouring towns, the Spanish missionaries found the fiesta as a convenient way to help teach Filipinos the Roman Catholic faith. They hoped and expected that the people would be drawn to and participate in the colourful processions and religious dramas. Many towns were then given names of saints. In fact, to thisd ay, nearly all towns have patron saints. Many barangays, in fact, celebrate fiestas, most often in honour of a patron saint.
I remember when the Immaculate Concepcion Church in Aurora Hill was erected, a weeklong celebration was held yearly, initiated by the parish priest and pastoral council and the different associations and clubs of the Dona Aurora Elementary School, such as the PTA and the Women’s Club. There were no barangays then and Aurora Hill was a close-knit community where families were familiar with and friends of each other. The sense of “neighbourhood” was enhanced by the weeklong fiesta of the Immaculate Concepcion as the preparation for the next fiesta would start right after the Christmas holidays and meetings would regularly be held with every family given assignment(s) to ensure that each activity proposed would be held successfully.
There was always the carnival but with limited rides and shows. The highlight was the daily novenas to the Blessed Virgin Mary until the day of the Immaculate Concepcion on December 8. The major activities were the PTA Night, Women’s Club Night, and the Community Night. Everyone in the city including the city officials, were invited. As a fund-raising campaign, a Miss Aurora Hill Contest was held yearly and each club would usually have their candidate and raise funds for their respective candidate. At the coronation night, which is a formal event, special performers and stars were invited to grace the affair as the Miss Aurora Hill was announced and crowned by the outgoing Miss Aurora Hill.
As I walked through the narrow streets of the Gracia neighbourhood, I felt the sense of community of the people who prepared for their weeklong fiesta. It is that same sense of “neighbourhood” that I experienced in my youthful days, especially in Aurora Hill and felt nostalgic and yearned for that same feeling.
TO BE CONTINUED…