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Monday, May 31, 2010

May: The Merry Month of Santacruzans and Fiestas

May is considered the merriest month of the year in the Philippines.  The month usually ushers in the end of the summer season and the start of the rainy season.  Flowers also come in full bloom on this month that's why we the traditional Flores de Mayo or Flowers of May.

It is the month of the  "
Santacruzan" a procession or pageant depicting the finding of the Holy Cross by Queen Helena, mother of Constantine the Great.  This is participated in by the fairest lasses in town, representing various characters associated with the Virgin Mary.  They are dressed in beautiful gowns sometimes even with a tiara, and walk along the main streets of town with their escorts under bamboo arches decked with the flowers of May.  The highlight of the parade of course is Reina Elena (Queen Helena) who is escorted by a young boy or Principe Constantino (Prince Constantine).  They are usually followed by a carossa bearing the image of the Holy Mother and after this, a band playing music in honor of the Virgin ends the parade.

Traditionally, the procession ends in the parish church where the lasses offer the flowers they bear to the altar of the Virgin Mary.  After this, a trellis made of bamboo hung with candies, sweets and other goodies, is hoisted up the air.  The
'pabitin" as it is known is slowly lowered to allow the children to get the goodies attached to the trellis.

The
Santacruzan usually serves as the culminating event of a town fiesta.  Another influence of the Spanish, fiestas are celebrated all over the country to celebrate the feast of a particular saint.  Each town has a patron saint and every year, townsfolk fete theirs with festivities and lavish food not different from the Roman feast of Bacchanalia. Fiestas usually last for only one day but certain parts of the country celebrate theirs for almost a week.

When I was younger, the sure sign that the fiesta is coming is when a 
perya  opens in a vacant lot near our church.  It resembled a carnival but only smaller.  Every night the perya operated games, raffles and of course, freak shows.  One freak show that stuck in my mind was the taong gubat or the wild man who ate a live chicken.  I watched in awe as the man grabbed a live chicken from the emcee and started gnawing its flesh.  My belief on the taong gubat was lost days later when my friends and I went to the vacant lot to catch dragonflies only to find the wild man doing laundry.  These days, the perye is rarely seen in the city.  Seeing one is like seeing an old acquaintance that's been missing for years.

Just this week, the place where I grew up celebrated the feast of its patron, the Holy Trinity.  The fiesta in our place was usually a big deal.  The streets were usually decorated with colorful streamers weeks before the actual feast day.  We wake up on the feast day itself to the sound of drum and bugle bands playing music while marching through the main streets.  Almost every house prepare sumptuous meals, which were openly served to guests.  My friends would go to each other's house to eat until we have our fill.

This year though was different.  There were no more marching bands, instead street dancers were going from house to house asking for donations.  Only a few homes in the neighborhood even bothered to prepare food.  In fact, the only streamers in the streets were the ones put up by the candidates in the last elections.  Perhaps these were just a reminder that times are indeed changing fast.


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