May’s siesta and fiesta
The Filipino habit of idlip, or a short nap after lunch, defines what siesta is: a short and sweet Filipino version of the Spanish kind, which lasts for two to three hours before lunch. Is this “habit which has become a tradition” good or bad? It depends. Medical science says a short snooze by people living in warm countries is good for the health, especially for cardiovascular functions. My grandmother, however, considered it a habit of lazy people. So I asked myself: How come the “lazy” Spaniards conquered the world?
When we first visited Madrid, we were surprised to see everything turn into “freeze” mode when the clock struck noon. Stores closed, and opened at 4 p.m. — in time for lunch. If that’s not long enough, bars and restaurants closed from 4 to 8 — in time for late lunch, and dinner at midnight. Long siesta was our first insight into Spanish refinements. That was when I told myself: We lazy Filipinos, having shorter siestas, may have better chances of wresting back Sabah from Malaysia, and the Kalayaan atolls from China — a valid reason to cherish that legacy and emulate the Spaniards.
The “merry month of May” in this country is called “fiesta time,” May having a good number of festivals, religious and cultural. Fiesta is another ennobling souvenir from Mother Spain, and this one, my late grandmother gladly accepted. I remember that every year, during our barrio fiesta in honor of the “saint of good harvest” she went to market to buy ingredients for a sumptuous fiesta lunch, “to appease our patron saint.” It made me wonder because we did not even have space for a garden patch.
Our neighbors, who were as poor as we, were more devout because every year their preparations were more grandiose; we saw thick smoke coming out of their roofs, signifying activities in the kitchen for tons of food for guests, invited and uninvited — all in the spirit of the traditional fiesta, and in honor of the Patrón. They spent everything they had saved the whole year in one day, and what they “harvested” after was distress — where to borrow money to pay for their children’s tuition.
There are a thousand and one fiestas every year, mostly religious; some are conceived for fun and for other mindless reasons. Celebrations lift the spirit and, hopefully, these artistic but frivolous activities in a country lacking in sensible endeavors bring forth more serious undertakings in the future.
May is the month of the “Santacruzan” and the “Flores de Mayo,” originally conceived to venerate the Virgin Mary but now a parade of local virgins who dream of being “discovered” for the movies, or end up conceiving at home with the local Constantino. Then there’s the “Pahiyas” in Lucban, Quezon; “Pasasalamat” in La Carlota, Negros Occidental; “Pista Magoyon” in Bicol; the popular Antipolo Pilgrimage; “Tapusan sa Kawi”; “Boa-Boahan” in Nabua, Camarines Sur; “Pista y Dayat” in Pangasinan; “Pahoy-Pahoy” in Calbiga, Samar; and many more.
There are more religious than cultural festivals (most barrios or barangays have each a patron saint to honor). The more popular ones are: the “Dinagyang” in Iloilo, “Sinulog” in Cebu, “Ati-Atihan” in Aklan, “MassKara” in Bacolod, “Panagbenga” in Baguio, and others. The more known religious feasts are the Cutud Crucifixion in Pampanga and Peñafrancia in Naga City. Not to forget, the carabao shows in Pulilan, Bulacan, and Angono, Rizal, which seem to be losing steam since the introduction of the mechanical rice cultivator, consigning most carabaos to the slaughterhouse for the coming fiesta.
The traditional “Sayaw sa Obando” in Bulacan for San Pascual and Santa Clara by women wishing to become pregnant has also started to lose popularity. They have stopped dancing in the streets anymore since the introduction of fertility pills and Viagra.
There must be a psychological explanation of our people’s penchant for inventing formats for senseless rejoicing, with processions and parades, garish costumes, and street dancing. What lessons have we learned from rituals and from so-called mores which are forced as norms into the life of the Filipino?
We can only wonder. Meanwhile, let’s enjoy the hot and humid May weather with our short and sweet siesta, and await the next fiesta!
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Eddie Ilarde (PO Box 107 Makati 1222) is a former senator and a freelance writer, author and recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award for Radio-TV.
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