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June 21, 2004

MA. ISABEL A. ARELLANO

Wet and wild. These two words could very well describe me and my co-passengers when the jeepney we were riding passed by San Juan in Metro Manila on that fateful day in June. Wet, because we were drenched with water from the dippers and pails of some playful kids that lined up the streets. Wild, because the passengers got “wildly” mad at the revelers who merely wished to have fun but who definitely irked us — most of whom were going to school or work.

Indeed, to those who are playful enough to participate in wet games, this could be really fun. However, to those who must keep themselves dry as they prepare to go to school or work, this spells t-r-o-u-b-l-e! Nevertheless, this cannot change the fact that the Feast of San Juan is very special and memorable to Filipinos.

Every June 24, many parts of the Philippines celebrate the Feast of San Juan Bautista (St. John the Baptist) primarily with the traditional “basaan” or “buhusan” (dousing). Children and grown-ups alike line up the streets and generously douse passersby and visitors with water, supposedly to remind them of their baptism. They also enjoy engaging in water wars and other wet games using dippers, pails, hoses and even water pistols.

By this custom, Filipinos appropriately commemorate the birth of St. John (other than the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. John the Baptist is the only saint whose birth is celebrated in the Christian liturgy; feasts of other saints are celebrated on the day of their death), who cleansed and prepared the people for the coming of Jesus Christ by baptizing them with water.

Filipinos from different parts of the country celebrate this feast in various ways. Two of the most
popular celebrations can be witnessed in Balayan, Batangas and in Aliaga, Nueva Ecija.

One of the tourist attractions in Balayan, Batangas is the “Parada ng Lechon” (“Lechon Parade” or “Parade of Roasted Pigs”), which is part of the Feast of St. John. Filipino creativity is once more at its best as the roasted pigs are costumed and decorated according to the chosen motif or theme of the participating social organizations or groups. The spectators’ eyes feast on the amusing but definitely artistic sight — with pigs wearing wigs, jackets, jewels, flowers, sunglasses, and whatever ornaments and costumes the decorators may choose. After the Holy Mass at the Immaculate Conception Church, the lechon and the people are blessed in St. John’s name. These “beauties” then parade around the town where mischievous people try to splash water or even beer not only over the lechon, but also over the bearers and the spectators. After the parade, the revelers partake of the delectable lechon — most of which are given freely to the crowds, while some others are taken back to the clubs’ headquarters. Of course, in keeping with the festival’s spirit, the townsfolk welcome all visitors by generously dousing them with water.

Meanwhile, in barangay Bibiclat in Aliaga, Nueva Ecjia, devotees of St. John the Baptist celebrate the feast of their patron saint in a very unique way. Men, women and children alike transform themselves into “taong putik” (“mud people”) by completely covering themselves in mud and adorning their bodies with vines, banana leaves, dried coconut leaves and other indigenous materials to create costumes patterned after the saint’s attire. Such ritual is called “Pagsa-San Juan” (“imitating St. John”) by the locals, while outsiders call it the “Taong Putik Festival.”

The devotees go from one house to another and ask for alms in the form of candles or cash with which to buy candles. The mud people then proceed to the church plaza and light candles for St. John. After their prayers of supplication and thanksgiving, they participate in an outdoor Holy Mass and join in the much-awaited procession.

Wet. Wild. Hilarious. Outrageous. Strange. These may aptly describe the various celebrations of the Feast of San Juan in the Philippines. However, the most important fact remains — that Filipinos definitely honor the saint who had a very significant role in Christian history, especially in man’s salvation.

Oh, and let’s also not forget the fact that Filipinos truly have that special knack for intermingling religion, creativity and fun!