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SOMEONE ELSE’S WINDOWS: Fiesta: Evolution of A Tradition

By H. Marcos C. Mordeno

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews) – Merry May starts next week, a month marked by fiesta celebrations in almost all provinces of the country. History tells us it’s a practice introduced by Spain as a way to divert the minds of our subjugated ancestors from the abuses of their colonial masters.

Nonetheless, regardless of its roots as a subtle tool of control, the tradition lives on among many of the country’s Catholic faithful. Nobody seems to care how it originated. Indeed, who would mind history at the sight of the conspicuous lechon and other gastronomic delights on the tables of hosts, some of whom would go to the extent of incurring debts to honor a patron saint or simply to please their guests.

The feast, however, is just the culmination of the efforts that community members pour into the celebration.

Weeks or even a few months before the patron saint’s feast day the parish priest would hold meetings with active church members to plan activities for the event. Central to their discussion are preparations for the novena or the holding of masses everyday for nine days prior to the fiesta. In some parishes the parish priest presides over all the masses, in others, he would invite priests from nearby areas to take turns at the task.

On the feast day itself, it has become customary for some parishes to ask the bishop of the diocese to preside over the so-called high mass, as well as hold a baptism for children.

Yet, over the years, fiesta celebrations have evolved and ceased to be simply a religious event. Local governments and private groups, eager to make the whole thing more festive than it already is, would organize events like sport tournaments, concerts, beauty contests, parades and cultural events. Expect business establishments to also capitalize on it.

In villages and laid-back towns, “bayle” or dances held in makeshift settings like a basketball court or in the middle of a coconut farm were common until at least the early 1990s. In the 1970s, a few pesos could entitle a man to dance with any of the women who obliged to the request of a barangay official to make themselves available for the event. Of course, those who brought along their girlfriends or female friends may choose to dance with them.

Over time, bayle has become outdated, in part because it’s now viewed as an exploitation of women. Besides, the later generations, even those in rural areas, came to prefer disco, it’s enthralling upbeat music, lights and all.

In some instances, some priests, feeling uncomfortable that fiestas have become more secular than religious, tried to turn back the hands of time. Sometime in the 1990s, from where I came, the then-parish priest declared he would not hold the novena masses and masses on fiesta day if the local government insisted on holding a disco, cockfights, and other non-religious activities.

The mayor relented. But the townspeople resented the parish priest’s move, lamenting that it was the “pinakamingaw” (loneliest) fiesta ever. It was the first and last time that that priest tried to take the adrenaline out of my hometown’s most anticipated event. Until another priest replaced him.

It looks like there’s no way that the Church can dictate how the people would celebrate fiestas. It may frown on the fanfare as a mockery of its significance as a reminder of a saint’s contribution to the faith. But I guess the people haven’t really lost faith, they just want some fun. After all, it’s what the colonizers intended — for the people to have fun — isn’t it?

So, what evolution are we talking about?

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at



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