There is nothing more fearsome in this world than for a single woman on her late twenties, forray to a lair of nosy (albeit, well-meaning) relatives who only have this standard set of questions: 1) How old are you? 2) Do you have a boyfriend/husband? 3) When do you plan on settling down/ Why haven’t you settled down??!!
This year, I was (un)lucky to realize this as I travelled for the first time last June to my mother’s hometown in Tabon Tabon, Leyte for the town fiesta and after 20 years go back for the town fiesta this September to one of my father’s hometown, Capas, Tarlac. During trips like these, my packing list includes: acceptable dress for church; acceptable shorts; acceptable answer to number 3 above (yes, my mom actually packed the first two for me, the third one gets her really frustrated)
While I battled the Ultimate Three Questions with a simple smile and stop myself from rolling my eyes and instead send out a secret prayer to the universe (so help me God), I truly enjoyed all the other activities that had me either eating or drinking minus the answering-the-questions part.
- The star of the fiesta hot on its deathbed. This sight greeted me at 5:30 am in the morning at my mother’s hometown along with the crowing roosters and the grazing carabaos. It’s pork roasting at its most basic level. I wanted to try and help turn the bamboo poles but my Uncle just laughed at my useless attempts with my skinny arms.
- The plaza is the “it” place. In Tabon- Tabon, people flock to the Plaza the night before. Every year there is what they call a “Hermano/Hermana Mayor” in-charge. They organize everything from the food to the raffle to the “Curacha” where a couple dances and people throw money at them (never mind that the male dancer is the town’s own Vice Mayor dancing with his two left feet). At my father’s hometown in Capas a Fair (perya) is a regular activity at the Plaza. I remember as a kid I rode the carousel, ferris wheel, horror train and all the other rides. I also remember my frustration because at PhP 8 per ride of the horror train, it was too expensive for an 8 year old kid back in the 90’s. Sadly though, they renovated the plaza and now could only accommodate food stalls and other stands and one giant ferris wheel.
- Fiestas mean an overflow of food and drinks. Here is what amazed me in Leyte: the formal and official Fiesta really is just one day. But unofficially, it’s celebrated for three days: the day before (which is called Bisperas), the day itself (Fiesta), and the day after (Rikim/ Requiem). Now, I understand the day before and the day itself because we also celebrate them here back in the city. What amazes me is the day after. If what people said was true, and that Rikim is based on the Latin word: Requiem (meaning mass for the dead) it could only mean that it’s really just a celebration (read: excuse not to go to work) for all those who are passed out drunk from the day before. Also, another thing that amazed me is that being 444.98 miles and 386.42 nautical miles away from each other, Tarlac and Leyte Fiestas have one thing in common (well, except probably me as my mother and father’s product) is the dinuguan as the featured food served during Bisperas.
- The real stars of the fiesta, The Patron Saints. Of course, fiestas are really a celebration in honor of Patron Saints. In Tabon-Tabon St. Anthony de Padua, the Patron Saint of the lost and in Capas St. Nicolas de Tolentino, the Patron Saint of Holy Souls.
Yes, it might have felt like joining a beauty pageant and my jaws ached from all that smiling while doing the round of visits to my relatives. And yes, some were surprised I could understand Waray and Kapampangan but also laughed and teased me about my weird accent at my attempts to speak. But also yes, I truly did enjoy my visit. After all, it’s only a once-a-year self-inflicted pain.