The Feast of the Black Nazarene this week was the first of the many mass festivals in various parts of our country, mostly with religious roots but celebrated with mixtures of traditions and beliefs arising from the local culture of the people.
Masses were held, first at the Luneta Grandstand in Manila and, at the end of the procession, at the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo. In between was a 22-hour-long procession during which thousands of devotees struggled to touch the image on its carriage or even just the ropes used to tow it.
The whole year, the image of the Black Nazarene quietly occupies its honored place in the Quiapo Church. But on two days of the year — its feast day on January 9 and on Good Friday during Holy Week – a sea of barefoot devotees from near and far come to join its procession. Most do it as a “panata,” a religious vow. Many have claimed miraculous healing of ailments and granting of wishes.
Several other big festivals are scheduled this month in various parts of the country. On January 16-22, the Ati-atihan will be held in honor of the Sto. Nino in Kalibo, Aklan, with revelers, their bodies painted black for the original tribal people who first welcomed the image, dancing in the streets.
The Sto. Nino is also the patron saint of Cebu and several other towns and cities in the Philippines. The Sinulog Festival in Cebu on the third Sunday of January is one of the country’s biggest fiesta celebrations. Tondo, Manila’s almost populous district, honors the Sto. Nino on this day. On the fourth Sunday of the month, it is the turn of Iloilo City to hold its Dinagyan Festival, also in honor of the Holy Child.
There are many festivals in the country, each one honoring the local saint or celebrating a historic event, a prized product, or annual community activity. Among the biggest gatherings are the Panagbenga flower festival in Baguio City, the Caracol Festival of Makati City, the Pahiyas Festival of Lucban, Quezon, and the Moriones Festival of Marinduque. Then we have the Good Friday crucifixions in Pampanga and Bulacan and the Our Lady of Manaoag pilgrimage in Pangasinan.
So rich are our islands and our history that there is so much to celebrate. The massive Black Nazarene procession this past week was the first big one – a distinctive mixture of faith, culture, aspirations, and idiosyncracies. Taken all together, these celebrations make up who and what we are as a nation.