The Fiesta Spirit




It is perhaps that because the Philippines have over 7,107 islands that we are not able to explain in a simple and straightforward manner why so many festivals (or ‘fiestas’ if you like) are really held each year in this country. This, given that we’ve endeavoured putting together a relatively long list of festivals in a crude attempt to make some sense of it.


For one, there are literally hundreds of ‘barangays‘ (villages), municipalities, towns and cities dotted throughout the 80-odd provinces that make up the country and each of these have their own festival to speak of. But, we sense that the answer doesn’t lay in numbers but more in understanding some aspects of the Filipino psyche that contribute to their ‘spirit of fiesta’. That’s where the answer is.


Filipinos are social animals or ‘groupists’. They thrive only through human in teraction and company. They unwittingly always surround themselves with people and hover over them too. According to a well-known psychologist from the Jesuit University of Ateneo in Manila – Dra. Patricia Licuanan, the average Filipino would have and know at least 300 relatives and probably double that number in acquaintances and friends.


Filipinos are also a happy people and that’s probably because they feel com fortable under their own skins. They love to tease too but in a most endearing way once they feel comfortable knowing much more about you. They place a high premium on pakikisama (getting along) and pakikipagkapwa (relating). One of the worst labels a Filipino will avoid at all costs is to be known as being walang pakikipagkapwa (unable or an inability to relate). In that sense, they are social weavers. They weave theirs into yours so that all become parts of one another.




One of the rare jewels Filipinos keep in their treasure chest is their unique sense of humour. They laugh given the slightest opportunity and serious discussions are at times punctuated by a needed humorous statement. Text messages that you would receive from them are often replete with funny remarks, punch lines or take on life.


Even an innocent act, a road sign or a photograph of something mundane can be the subject of their humour. And given the knack of Filipinos for word play, instant jokes are created in the most unexpected of situations. But take no offence as most jokes or innocent remarks they might make are all simply meant to elicit your laughter. It is mirth to their ears and is all part and parcel of their spirit of ‘joie de vivre’ (love of life).


In order to best appreciate Filipino humour, one must have some knowledge of their language and a little about the social, economic, geographical and political systems at work in the Philippines. Humour is seen as the best way by which Filipinos cope with problems; with abrupt changes to their normal flow of life – thus making light of issues other nations may even find tragic. It is their innate way of neutralizing the effects of some uncomfortable discovery, truth, situation or environment. Humour as a constant companion is how they adroitly manage and overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges, struggles and burdens in life even as it may sometimes expose their own foibles as individuals or as a people. It is their most effective antidote against depression; it is how they manage to bounce back from all of life’s defeats, sorrows, blows, tumbles, falls and calamities.


Watch The Video


WARNING: This video clip is all of 9:34-minutes in length and not the usual ‘quickie’ you’d expect. Also, unless you’re a Filipino, we’ve already advised that the best way to appreciate Filipino humour is to have some knowledge of their language. But because not all of you can read, write or speak Pilipino – that’s their national language by the way. Fortunately for you, the accompanying audio has none of it recorded. So please refrain from thinking (foolish mistake, really) that what you hear is a sample of what you might think as the ‘Filipino’ language, or some kind of ‘jungle talk’ most non-Filipinos tend to think privately it is when they hear this kind of babble. Neither is the background singing you hear representative of any Asian or Southeast Asian lan guage or dialect. It’s not even remotely Yiddish. No offence meant to the Jewish people, we love them too as well. In fact, it was us Filipinos who broke the deadlock vote in the United Nations in 1947 and one that led to the State of Israel being recognized and accepted into the family of nations. Incidentally, this particular video clip was not produced by the creative team of Filipinos in New Zealand, although they do stuff like that for a fee. That said, video production credits belong to Job A. Pagsibagan who was inspired by the Philppines’ Department of Tourism’s new campaign to promote the Philippines as a fun place to be in. To create this video, Job picked up slice-of-life images about the Philippines where he could get them and tweaked each to include his own captions. In the process, this self-confessed amateur created some very funny associations. Typical Filipino humour coming from a Filipino who knows all about it as well. Job well done, Job! (the pun is intended, by the way) – The Editorial Board.




In saying these things then, Filipinos are a people who love to blend and harmo nise with other people. Unmistakably, once you get to really know them well it won’t take long before they include you into their ‘tribo‘ (tribe) or their ‘pamil ya’ (family) much the same way they’d like becoming part of yours. As it is, a Filipino would call his or her close friend’s mother nanay (or mommy); a friend’s sister ‘ate’ (older sister) or an elder brother ‘kuya’, and so on. They even call elderly strangers who they hap pen to have just met ‘tita’ (for aunt), ‘tito’ (for uncle), ‘tatang’ (for grand father), and so on as well.


Another remarkable trait of Filipinos is their timelessness. Despite the nearly half-a-millennium encroachment of the western clock into their daily lives Filipinos, unless attending some very formal or official functions, still measure time not with the ticking of hours and minutes, but with feeling. This attribute is ingrained deeply into their psyche.


Their sense of time (in what is called ‘Filipino Time’) is diffused and easy-flowing, not framed. Their appointments are defined by the whole stretch of the longer ‘umaga’ (morning), ‘tanghali’ (noon), ‘hapon’ (afternoon), or ‘gabi’ (evening). Their most exact time reference is probably ‘katanghaliang-tapat’ (somewhere around high noon), which still allows many minutes of leeway. This is how Fili pino gatherings and occasions are timed – there is really no definite exact time!


Filipinos are a type of people who are satisfied with life and love to laugh and tend to love people with humor which most of their festivals mirror. Their fiestas are laden with colour and sounds; they are numerous, vibrant and ener getic which explains why the Philippines is often dubbed as “The Fiesta Islands”.




Filipinos celebrate festivals and fiestas for a number of reasons. These include expressing gratitude for good harvests; commemorating significant events in local history; celebrating the feast days of saints and sometimes, even honouring the value of a beloved farm animal like the carabao (or water buffalo).


Today, Filipinos now compose one of the world’s largest populations of overseas migrants. Their communities can be found in major capitals, minor towns and even remote villages and islands the world over. Their adventurism has made them today’s citizens of the world, bringing along too their ‘bibingka‘ (sweet rice pudding), ‘bagoong‘ (salty shrimp paste), ‘pansit‘ (sautéed noodles), ‘sio pao‘ (meat-filled dough), ‘kare-kare‘ (saucy peanut-flavored meat dish), ‘ba lut‘ (unhatched duck egg) ‘adobong karne‘ (meat vinaigrette), not mentioning too their ‘tabo‘ (ladle) and ‘tsinelas‘ (slippers).


Among all events Filipinos celebrate Christmas is the biggest, widest and longest in the Philippines. Literally, it starts from September and lasts till mid-January – this perhaps counting as the longest Christmas celebration in the world. Some might add that it’s a little overdone, but in the midst of this it’s all fun and festive in any case. Having said that, Christmas celebrated in the Philippines is just one among a whole range of other festivals that occur throughout the islands.


It’s almost non-stop. Because Filipinos are touted as being one of the more joyful and sociable people it comes not as a surprise that their fiesta season runs through almost all months of each year. Some of the most anticipated events in this archipelago in Southeast Asia, especially those which have gained inter national exposure, have attracted droves of tourists from all over the world. These are festivals are characterised by an overflowing supply of food delicacies, joyous music, dancing, singing, colourful parades, circuses, beauty pageants, games and hilarious contests just to name a few.




In the Philippines as in other counties where they’ve settled, Filipino groups of various persuasions habitually and matter-of-factly commandeer streets (after securing the requisite permits and licences, of course) for processions and parades. It is not uncommon to close a street to accommodate these functions. In fact, one popular Filipino-inspired festival ‘event’ occurred in New Zealand recently during the Rugby World Cup 2011 street celebrations in Wellington city involving a series of performances of the Ati-atihan Festival organised by the Filipino Artists in New Zealand, Inc. group, a non-government organisation op erating in that part of the country.


Fiestas and festivals are an unforgettable part of Filipino culture. Not only do these events uplift the spirit and well-being of those who are actually given an opportunity to experience it but they also contribute significantly to a better understanding of what multi-culturalism really means and to the continued growth of tourism in our adopted country, New Zealand.


In this 4-part series, Filipinos in New Zealand will cover stories about three of the most festive and colourful Filipino fiestas that have caught the attention of the rest of the world.


Read on!


| Part-1 | Part-2 | Part-3 | Part 4 |




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Filed under Arts and Culture, Filipinos in Auckland, Filipinos in New Zealand, Special Feature

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