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Colorful Festivals in the Philippines

Monday, April 20, 2009

Festivals are a year-round cycle in the Philippines. Every city, town, and barrio has its own fiesta, either in honor of the patron saint or a memorable event in the life of the community, usually celebrated with flourish and fanfare.

Among the most colorful celebrations are the so-called river festivals. A river festival is featured by a garnish fluvial parade along the river of the town or barrio where the celebration is going on. The center of attraction in the parade ia a gaily-decorated pagoda set on big boats. In the pagoda is enshrined the image of the patron saint of the community.

One of the much-awaited river festivals is the feast of Our Lady of Peñafrancia, held every third Sunday of September in Naga City. Throughout the whole week, people from the Bicol provinces and other parts of the country converge at the ancient seat of Nueva Ceceres to celebrate the blessed event in honor of the Bicol region's patron saint. Nine days before the fiesta, the Virgin is transferred from her shrine to the Naga Cathedral where a novena is offered.

Aside from the procession in Naga's main streets, the finale of the week-long festivities is the return trip of the Virgin to her shrine. Placed in a bedecked banca and accompanied by thousands of devotees also riding in colorful bancas, the Virgin is paraded in a fluvial procession along the Naga River.

The Shrine of Our Lady of Peñafrancia used to be a nipa-and-bamboo affair built by Miguel de Cubarrubias, a Spanish priest, in the seventeeth century. The old ermita later on was recontructed. The present church was built more or less in the same place where the first chapel was constructed.

Another big fluvial festival is held on the first and second days of November in Cavite in honor of Our Lady of Solitude of Porta Vaga. It is said that the image of the Virgin was found by some fishermen floating in the sea and surrounded by bright lights. Ever since the picture of the image was brought to Cavite, a nocturnaal fluvial procession from San Roque Church in Cavite City to Cabuco Beach in Caridad along the Manila Bay area has been observed every year on her feast day.

On the shore where the picture of the Virgin was found - it must have come from a galleon wrecked in a storm as it plied the route between Manila and Acapulco - the fisherfolk built makeshift nipa chapel. This was later rebuilt as part of the old Spanish fort that protected the entrance to what was known then as Puerto de Cavite.

Tradition has it that the Virgin has saved fishermen and sailors who pray to her for guidance during stormy nights. There is also a story of several Spanish ships stranded in the shores of the Bicol region. Without food and water for several days, the sailors began to lose hope until one of them who was a devotee of the Blessed Virgin prayed for aid. Joining the devotee in prayer, the other sailors were surprised when a fresh breeze enabled them to proceed to their destination.

The church in Cavite City was destroyed during the war. When the Japanese occupied the city, they placed the image of the Virgin in one corner; but Father Perdo Larena, the parish priest, requested the invaders to allow him to keep the image with him. That was how it was saved from destruction.

In Apalit, Pampanga, the residents hold a river procession on June 29 in honor of Saints Peter and Paul. The colorful event is performed on the Pampanga river as a ritual to bring in more fish to the river.

Similar processions are observed in Bocaue, Bulacan in honor of the feast of the Holy Cross of Wawa; in Taal and Lipa, Batangas, to venerate the miraculous Virgin of Casaysay; in Guagua, Pampanga, in honor of Saint John; in Tacloban, Leyte, honoring an image of the Santo Niño which was believed to have been found by a fisherman in a box out at sea; and in some fishing towns in Rizal and Laguna.


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