Fiesta is a term familiar to most Filipinos, albeit each expresses it differently. Hearing the word fiesta awakens a feeling of jubilation or a reminiscence of tradition back home. And rightly so! Fiesta, after all, means reliving a tradition, fun, and festivity. While Filipinos know that fiesta can be pricy, the cost is often and consciously ignored in favour of tradition.

Fiesta is a Spanish term to mean a “feast” — a term shared by many Latin cultures. The tradition and etymological subtext of the term is part of the cultural DNA of Filipinos, owing to their historical, cultural, and religious experience even before the era of colonization.

The natives in the Archipelago (which Spain later named Las Islas Filipinas or the Philippines) strongly connected to the earth and creation. Like most Indigenous peoples worldwide, the Archipelago inhabited natives who lived in harmony with creation, defined by respect for the mother earth and their land as sacred spaces of spirits of the earth and their ancestors. They believed in Bathalang Maykapal (Creator) and the gods of and spirits of plants, animals, events like war, and celestial bodies. They called them anitos and diwatas and communicated with these through priestesses or Babaylan or Katalona. They offered bounties of the earth and harvest and held celebrations as offerings and ways to please the gods and spirits.

Before the Spanish came to the Philippines, the natives had pre-colonization beliefs, customs and traditions, festivities, social structures, laws, and tribal order. They survived in independent chiefdoms and had a diverse cultural and political identity. The diverse mores and local culture evolve over the centuries, with influences from traders from Southeast Asia. At that time, the natives were already trading gold, beads, silk, porcelain, and metals with the neighbouring islands in Borneo, Sumatra, Java, and as far as Cambodia, Japan, China, and India, cultural, spiritual, and political influence from external traders was inevitable.

The Spanish colonization, however, replaced anitos and diwatas of the natives with Catholic saints. The Church introduced Fiestas in honour of God and patron saints. While many Filipinos are grateful for the introduction of Christianity in the Philippines, one cannot conceal the horrors of colonization and its negative imprint on the historical consciousness of Filipinos. Colonization undeniably ensued genocide, slavery, violence, oppression, and racialization. The worse form of colonial racialization is the inculcation into the psyche of Filipinos that their collective identity was inferior to Westerners. Unfortunately, such collective inferiority is still in the consciousness of Filipinos today.

Fiesta is a tradition with a religious connotation. As 85% of the Filipinos are Catholics, Fiesta is often always associated with the feast day of a patron saint. For Catholics, it is a religious celebration centred around the Holy Eucharist. One of the popular fiesta celebrations in Central Visayas is the Sinulog de Cebu, the Dinagyang festival in Iloilo, or the Ati-Atihan in Aklan in honour of Sto. Niño (the Holy Child or Infant Jesus). These festivities draw in hundreds of thousands of visitors and spectators from neighbouring towns and different regions in the country.

Fiesta also means a family celebration, a household festivity. Families prepare their favourite dishes on the eve before the feast day or vésperas for their guests, friends, and neighbours. Traditionally, households open their doors to anyone who is in town for the fiesta celebration.

The meaning of fiesta has also gone beyond the ambit of religious practices. In the community, fiesta means weeks of preparation of street clean-up and decoration. People adorn their streets with flowers and banderitas (colourful stringed flags. They put up a community stage and a space for events, competitions, and dances. A week-long event, fun activities, and competitions build up toward the feast day.

Some major fiesta festivals in the country do not necessarily relate to Catholicism but ethnic traditions. For example, Baguio City in Northern Philippines prides itself with its annual celebration of the Panagbenga or the flower festival. In the country’s Southern region, Davao City celebrates its August thanksgiving and harvest festival or Kadayawan. A similar feast in Lucban, Quezon Province, is called the Pahiyas or good harvest festivity, is celebrated in May each year. Nowadays, hundreds of street-party festivals proliferate in towns and provinces as part of the tourism industry in the country.

Filipino Canadians sustain the fiesta tradition in a variety of ways. Some continue the tradition of honouring the feast days of Patron Saints in Roman Catholic parishes in Canada. Others transnationalize the feast day celebration of their hometowns. They go to the Church, light candles, prepare Filipino dishes, and invite their friends. However, others prefer to organize fiesta events to renew and promote Filipino culture and identity. One of the major festive events in Alberta is the Fiesta Filipino in September of each year.

The Fiesta Filipino event is a street party celebration of multiculturalism and diversity of the Filipino Community. It opens opportunities for all Canadians to experience Filipino culture and heritage. While it showcases the colourful Filipino culture and tradition, it is also an inter-dialogue of cultures within the Canadian context. It is the Filipinos share of the multi-cultural mosaic of the Canadian heritage.

The Fiesta-culture is our collective consciousness and a part of our cultural DNA. It is a Filipino way of thanksgiving or saying thank-you to life and its bounties. It is a sense of connection to God or the Creator, a patron saint, mother earth and creation, or spirits of ancestors. And while the celebrations and festivities are rites that connect humankind to the spiritual realm, they strengthen community and foster the social fibres of inclusion, collaboration, partnership, participation, and volunteerism.