|Edmonton Filipino Fiesta
Fiesta is a Spanish and Latin word for a festive celebration of a religious holiday. In modern times, it connotes a feast, a holiday or a carnival. The Philippine culture is marked with various fiestas, both pagan and Christian in origin. These fiestas may commemorate a moment in history, the feast of a patron saint, or celebrate a bountiful harvest. The fiestas are so spread out in time and geography that it is virtually impossible to participate or witness them all. In fact, the Manila Broadcasting Company has organized the Aliwan Fiesta, an annual event that gathers the different cultural festivals, as a one-stop showcase not only to the people in Metro Manila, but as an attraction to those abroad.
Before the arrival of the Spanish colonizers, the Filipinos were already engaged in mystical beliefs, worshipping and appeasing gods believed to control their family, livelihood, prosperity, health and their safety.
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The Spanish colonizers, especially the friars, used the fiesta in converting the pagan Filipinos into Christianity. The processions, festivities, music and pomp, would lure the “natives” from the remote fields, into the “plaza” or centre of the town. Instead of outlawing the pagan celebrations, the dances and rituals were altered as offerings to the saints.
In these modern times, the fiestas may be used to promote economic, political or tourism objectives. But with every Filipino, it is a social time, a time for fellowship, and a holiday. Although most fiestas originated as religious events, it has become secondary to the general spirit of celebration.
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Components of Filipino fiestas are banderitas (small flags), endless or continuous eating, processions, parades, dances, entertainment programs, religious or cultural rituals, trade fairs, pageants, games and contests and holy mass. Filipinos are known for their hospitality and there is no better avenue to showcase this than during a fiesta. One can be in a fiesta and partake in meals in several houses in one street!
Much like the fiestas organized by the early Spanish missionaries who were homesick, and flavored the festivities with practices back home, anywhere in the globe where there is a strong Filipino community, some form of fiesta has been celebrated. Go through any social media newsfeed and you will find Filipino fiestas held in North America, United Arab Emirates, Australia, and Europe. In Edmonton alone, there have been several events on patron saint’s feast days and regional festivals. Because as diverse as the Filipinos are in geography and ethnolinguistics, it is the fiesta that unifies us all. With its atmosphere of revelry and pageantry, the fiesta embodies what we crave for and aim to sustain - the invitation to connect, celebrate, and affirm the Filipino life and culture.
To quote Florentino H. Hornedo in his book Culture and Community in the Philippine Fiesta and Other Celebrations, the fiesta is rooted in the communitarian and expressive instincts of human nature, is a durable venue for Filipino culture and expressions, and is a symbol of Filipino sense of community as they struggle against modernization, involving individuals in their community. It serves as a cultural anchor, whereby the fiesta recreates for the Filipino a sense of being home, renewing his identity, and sense of belonging to a home and familial village.
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History has shown how the fiestas serve as a tool for varying purposes. The Filipino fiesta in today’s context, especially abroad, is whatever we, as a Filipino, make of it. We shape it based on how we view our Filipino-ness and how we want it to be perceived and celebrated in the society or community we live in. It is a reflection of who we are in that point of time and location. It an event by the Filipino community, for the Filipino community and secondary to the other people in whatever foreign place the Filipino may be.Edmonton will be having its own Edmonton Filipino Fiesta on June 9-11, 2017 at the Sir Winston Churchill Square. For more information, go to edmontonfilipinofiesta.com or philippineartscouncil.com/edmfilfiesta.
This article was published in the May 2017 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.