Now that's a fiesta  

Posted by Laya in ,

I was recently invited to a fiesta in Bulacan. My roommates had been busy for weeks with the preparations and I had hardly seen them in our shared digs. Finally the preparations had been completed and the fiesta was in full swing. When I stepped down from the jeepney I suddenly felt as if I had been transported into a movie... one of those old movies where a visitor arrives for a fiesta and sees the marching bands go by, and the people in their best clothes greeting one another in the streets, and everybody goes from house to house partying till they're stuffed.

Of course we had fiestas where I was born and grew up. Those were mostly centered around the plaza, though. We usually had activities at the plaza every day and night for the whole week, usually basketball and volleyball tournaments and martial arts and synchronized calesthenics and dancing exhibitions. There would be a perya in the vacant field beside the plaza, filled with people at all hours, and if we were lucky, a ferris wheel. At night there would be beauty pageants and dances.

The last day and night of the fiesta would be the grandest. There would be a parade in the afternoon, with the school majorettes and drum and bugle corps leading it. There would be people from each purok with their floats... if it was a good year and there was money to spend, the floats would be trucks, if not, they'd be traysikads (bicycles with sidecars) or tricycles. The purok's princess, usually an elementary (aged 6 to 12) or high school (aged 13 to 17) girl, depending on the year's criteria, who has been picked by the people of the purok for beauty, talent, personality or popularity, or affluence, rode on the float with her escort, usually the purok's most personable boy of the year.

Although there will most likely have been beauty pageants the previous nights, the queen and princesses in the parade are not the winners of the pageants. They are selected by their puroks, and their families and neighbors then endeavor to raise donations for them in the form of money, which will be used to supplement the fiesta fund. The candidate who raises the most money becomes the queen, and the next four are her princesses.

I often took part in fiesta exhibitions when I was still in elementary school, as a majorette or a member of the synchronized dance or calesthenics exhibitions. My pet peeve though was not getting to be one of the princesses because my family didn't have any money, and on those occasions when someone approached my dad to ask if I could be the purok's princess he would always refuse. How I would look at the queen in her white gown with silver and gold embroidery and her long train that stretched out behind her for two meters and was held up by two little girls dressed just as beautifully.

The years passed, however, and my family's lot in life improved, so that my sister got to be a fiesta princess years later. Fortunately for me, too, when I got to high school our school principal picked me to become the school's princess for a fiesta, so I got to ride on a float and wear gowns after all. By then, I was already wondering why I wanted to do that sort of thing in the first place, lol. I had discovered that makeup made my face and neck feel sticky and that the heavy gowns made me feel hot and itchy. So much for wanting to be a princess!

Anyway, our fiestas were more about the plaza and all the presentations. As for the food, though, not everyone prepared fiesta food. Often, only the more affluent families did, and everyone just ate lunch, merienda, or dinner there. My own family only took the trouble to prepare fiesta food only when we were expecting guests from out of the barrio. Otherwise, we were all just busy preparing for whatever parts we had in the programs and were at the plaza most of the time. My mom would just cook spaghetti or pancit and a meat dish like afritada or pochero, and make macaroni salad, and perhaps suman and other kakanin, and that was it. Our guests ate lunch, went with us to the plaza and watched the presentations or played at the perya, and went back to our house for dinner before going home.

In Bulacan, the first thing I noticed was the sheer number of guests in my roommate's house. Neighbors, friends and relatives were there with their children in tow, and guests kept arriving and leaving. The house was dressed up to the nines and there was a buffet table on the porch groaning with food. At the side of the house was another table laden with drink, where the men stayed. People were also talking about the houses they had already visited and who was serving what dish and whether someone had cooked her specialty for this fiesta.

I also noticed a marching band passing by and naively asked about the route of the parade, since in our place, the band marches and plays only in the parade and in its presentation during the program that follows. My roommate laughed at me because apparently, in their place, the fiesta committee hires a band or "mosiko" that just goes around the barrio playing tunes. *facepalm*

The last guest finally staggered out the gate at nearly ten o'clock that night, laden with parcels of take-home food, and my roommate's mom said that it was time to unwrap the gifts. I was like, whoa, gifts? because I knew that it wasn't the birthday of anyone in their family. Apparently, it was customary for guests to bring a gift for their hosts. uh-oh. And I hadn't brought anything! So I just commented that I didn't know Christmas came early in their town, and they all laughed. The gifts usually consisted of household items, such as dishes, pots and pans, blankets, towels, and figurines or odd knick knacks to display. Well, I thought, now I know what to bring next time. If I'm ever invited back, that is.

But the day wasn't over yet, for we then headed to my other roommate's house (they're cousins), had a little midnight snack, and videoked into the wee hours of the morning. Wheeee. The next day, the whole place was strangely quiet as everyone recovered from the previous day's events.

Filipinos all over the archipelago celebrate fiestas, but apparently, we all have our little customs that vary from place to place. All I know is, if I ever get invited to another Bulacan fiesta, I should remember to drop by and buy some housewares.

Thanks to my roommates and their wonderful families for the invitation!

This entry was posted at Thursday, October 22, 2009 and is filed under , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

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