Fiesta time in Luzon
Right now, it is "summer" in the Philippines.
It's hot. There is no rain, and nothing grows without irrigation, so work slows down in farm areas.
The rains start in May. So by late May, it is time to start mulching the rice fields to prepare them for the rice seedlings, that are planted by hand.
Thanks to handplows (sort of a large rototiller) the tilling is a bit easier than the old days of using a waterbuffalo, but no matter how it is done, rice takes a lot of work to get a good crop.
But right now, there is little rain, the fields are fallow, so it is fiesta time.
There are all sorts of fiestas in the Philippines, most of them celebrating the local saints.
Each town has a large church, but every neighborhood has a small open air chapel used for prayer meetings and weekly mass.
Our town's church patron is the Three Kings, so there is a fiesta in early January. And our neighborhood is San Lorenzo, St. Lawrence. The next neighborhood is San Vincente, St. Vincent Ferrar. You get the idea. Then there are fiestas and processions for Christmas, Easter, Holy Week, etc.
Humans have a need for celebration. In secular societies, we celebrate everything from our local sports team to Independence day. Here, we celebrate the saints.
The fiestas are a way to teach the young about God, through stories that teach them about Catholicism, both dogma and morality.
The big fiesta in our town is "the Divina Pastora", which roughly translates as "the Holy Shepherdess". A local website tells the story of how a dream led to a visit to an Augustine friar, who gave the lady an image of the Spanish Divina Pastora: Mary as a Spanish shepherdess, with staff and widebrimmed hat, caring for her sheep.
The statue at first was only placed in the family shrine, but soon it's fame and association for miracles spread, until soon it became the center of the small town's local devotion.
All of this at first seems strange, since there are no sheep in this area (goats yes, but no sheep). But of course, the image tells us that Mary, the mother of God, is a loving mother caring for her wandering children, and that story transcends cultural boundaries.
Mama Mary may be dressed for the fiesta in gold brocade and given a crown, but everyone knows she is wearing the hat of a farm wife and is busy working watching the sheep. She is one of the common people, not a rich lady.
Mama Mary is one of us.
Perhaps at this point I should point out that when the friars came, they taught religion via fiestas, stories, and images. Jesus became Kuya Jesus (older brother Jesus), Mary was Mama Mary, and God the father was, well, the father in charge of his large extended family.
Devotion is quite personal. Most people have small shrines in their homes, with various images which are decorated with flowers and leis on holy days. Lourdes shrines are commonly found in middle class homes. And many Catholic families pray the rosary every day after supper.
With the modern world changing things, we see a change in culture.
Often, the more "americanized" Filipino, especially the business community, becomes Protestant. They join a church full of other intelligent, upright, hard working businessmen, and hear sermons which teach a strict set of moral rules. Teaching is via bible verses, not by stories, and is very exact and proper.
And that influence has led Catholic groups to stress bible study, so that educated Catholics now learn where their beliefs were written in the Bible.
Yet the Protestants have brought another way to worship that has energized the Catholic church:the Pentecostal/Charismatic movements where singing and praise allows people to feel a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and empowerment of the Holy Spirit as part of their lives.
But the Catholics, even those involved in the charismatics, still love the fiestas to express their religion.
Here there are two parades. The "official" one is May 1, but the religious one was on Saturday.
First there was an afternoon Mass, with the crowning of Mary.
This was followed by a parade of groups from the small parish churches in each neighborhood (barangay) in a parade.
The statues of the saints came first, followed by the parish groups. Many groups were dressed in local costumes, others in traditional garb. Many of the poorer groups only had sashes or ponchos to identify their group. But they marched as a way to show their devotion to Mary, and as a way to honor God.
Photos from the parish website HERE show the 2002 fiesta.
And then came the street dances and parties. The parties continue through May 1st. Lots of people use the fiesta as an excuse to travel home and visit extended family.
Of course, these celebrations are frowned on as quaint and pagan by the more sophisticated, but Hey, we're Filipinos.
We figure if Jesus could do his first miracle to keep the wedding party going in Cana, he won't mind if we eat some lechon and drink a Cola or San Mig to celebrate him and his mom.