Banning the bacchanal

By: Radel Paredes January 17,2016 - 12:14 AM

Today marks the first Sinulog parade that is supposed to be void of street parties. That is if authorities strictly enforce the ban on the bacchanalia that customarily goes with the religious ceremonies. Let’s  see how that goes.

My friend Junggoy, a veteran of such wild parties that usually take place around Fuente Osmeña and the Baseline area in the uptown, is a bit skeptical. “I don’t think they can do it,” he says. “People will always find ways to have fun. Besides, it’s not good for business. Sinulog is peak season for a lot of local bars and clubs.”

Like me, Junggoy has long stopped going to these parties since he stopped drinking and smoking after nearly suffering  a mild stroke in his early 30s. Now he’s a party animal on rehab if not retirement.

I had my own share of wild parties, too. In fact, until the last Sinulog parade I joined with my family  a few years back, they were all street parties.

The first time I joined the Sinulog parade  I was a college freshman. I went there partly out of curiosity but also to have a small reunion with my high school classmates and kababayans from Surigao City.

Every year, our hometown sends a contingent that during my college days almost always won the top prizes. A lot of Surigaonons living  in Cebu would come to the parade to proudly join our city’s contingent. At that time, you could just enter the parade and trail behind your favorite contingent to dance along.

It was not so strict then.  There was no texting or Facebook but my friends and I always found each other in the parade. There’s always someone who would generously pour beer into plastic cups and we would pass them around as we danced. Others were not as discreet and raised the bottle named after a different santo.

When we reached the Fuente area, we would leave the parade and look for a place to have more drinks until  late into the night or up to the wee hours  of the next day. We preferred to stay late because it could be a struggle to get home. You would have to elbow your way through a crowd all trying to get into the bottleneck that is the jeepney entrance.

I found that the fastest way is to simply climb and slip your way through the vehicle’s narrow window. That’s how barbaric it could get. But you really did not have much choice when you were already drunk and desperate to hit the sack.

Years later, I would spend Sinulog with my activist friends. We once turned the parade into a protest rally as we carried placards and banners with political statements rather than images of the Sto. Niño.  After having “occupied” the Sinulog parade, we pitched our red flags and banners at the Fuente Osmeña circle and had a small picnic with some rather irreverent drinks.

Like my friend Junggoy, I have since adopted  semi-abstinence from alcohol and most wild parties that it helped fuel. I now prefer to stay home during the Sinulog and sometimes watch the event on TV. I mean, I turn on the TV and glance at it occasionally as I do other things but not really watch. You know that it’s the same thing every year. It’s as redundant as the Sinulog drumbeat that becomes your background music for the whole second week of January.

There is more sense in getting  away from the noise and crowd and do something more introspective, if not spiritual. I can understand the dismay of the more religious among us at the disrespect of others, those like us who would turn the Sinulog into a local Woodstock.

But then again, haven’t we always celebrated fiestas with such contradictions—that we can pray and party at the same time? There’s always the two sides of the fiesta: the sacred and the secular, if not profane. The same people who try desperately to touch the vestments of the santo during processions are also the ones who spend the rest of the day in gluttony, gambling and drunkenness.

And disrespect? Perhaps. Although, I believe some of them may not really lose the faith as they try to have fun in their own way. As we were dancing and were a bit tipsy during the parade back in those days, some of us actually thought of the Holy Child and felt that perhaps he would be more forgiving and less strict. After all, one can’t always be too serious in our faith. That is why there is another way to pray, which we learned partly from our pagan forebears that adopted the Child God for their own: to sing, dance and party.

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