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All roads led to Naga City last September 15. As expected, the traditional annual Peñafrancia fiesta has attracted people of all walks of life to converge in the little city of Naga. You could almost mistake downtown Naga as Divisoria or Baclaran. The crowds could hardly move. Vendors are everywhere, occupying even the sidewalks. Consequently, the pedestrians occupied the streets. You could easily get lost among the sea of people. Plaza Rizal became a camp for all sorts of traders. The products that are being sold range from imitation watches to abaca handicrafts. Most of these ambulant entrepreneurs have been occupying their respected tents and booths for at least a week. Some even made reservations months ahead.
Peñafrancia fiesta is supposed to be a religious festivity, but like Christmas and other Christian festivities, the commercial aspect was more emphasized. The religious ceremonies and traditions just became the excuses for merry-making and over-eating. Peñafrancia fiesta is a colonial heritage of the former Spanish masters. The celebration might be religiously shallow but it is culturally rich.
My earliest memory about Peñafrancia fiesta is about cotton candies and earthenware toys (also known as dalipay). These toys were shaped from muds and painted with attractive color. I remember that I once cried when my dalipay toy gun was accidentally shattered when I dropped it. Aside from cotton candies and earthenware toys, I also remember the strong perfume scent of the “Ina” image on my grandmother’s handkerchief. My grandmother would patiently wait in a long line of devotees and pilgrims just to touch the sculpted figure of “Ina” as it was displayed on the altar of the church. The long line of local devotees and pilgrims was almost endless.
However, the number of sincere religious devotees that converge in Naga during Peñafrancia fiesta is always overwhelmed by people who simply wanted to have fun. The fiesta is traditionally a month-long celebration. However, the main highlight of the festivity is always the fluvial procession which is held every third Saturday of September. However, long before the fluvial procession many cultural, civic and commercial activities are held. Among others, the activities include the Miss Bicolandia Pageant, the civic and military parade competition, the trade fares, and the regata or boat race. Flaglets, banners, and posters are virtually ubiquitous in downtown Naga. Ironically, most of these are mere product endorsements.
As far as I can remember, the Peñafrancia fiesta has always been commercialized. It has always resembled superficial religious devotions. On the other hand, as a cultural event, the Peñafrancia is among the most impressive festivals in the country.