Lavish feast for ascetic saint
BALAYAN, Batangas: Howler ‘Falcon’ won’t have anything to do with the swelling surge of what looks like floodwaters here—it’s only beer being emptied into huge galvanized iron tubs called bañeras that usually hold a plethora of catch off the nearby bay and beyond. A boisterous binge of beer and serving upon heaping serving of roast suckling chunks unfolds to stuff revelers and guests, to honor the most revered patron saint of Batangas—St. John the Baptist.
Savor the irony: the hermit as voice in the wilderness subsisted on the pulp and seeds of the carob tree, edible roots and locust. His birthday-- it falls on summer solstice, roughly six months before the birth of Christ-- is celebrated here with the renowned “Parada ng Lechon” (Parade of Roast Pig), likely to make up for in surfeit what John the Baptist lacked in his Spartan food fare.
As unrepentant seeker of reforms, St. John (the name means “beloved of God”) got his head chopped off—and some revelers somehow lose theirs in the copious intake of intoxicating drink. Those about to nod off on the drinking table are properly doused, roused back sober with either a glass or pail of water.
“This is tropic bacchanalia. There is so much electricity, so much energy and merry-making in the yearly tribute to St. John the Baptist. The town fiesta is actually on December 8, feast of the Immaculate Conception that we don’t celebrate like this. There is a collective belief among Batangueños that since St. John had baptized Jesus Christ, he was the most preeminent propagator of the Christian faith,” explained erstwhile local councilor Catalino Alano.
Two years back, 300 roast suckling pigs went on parade—a record, according to Alano who averred, “On any year, locals would trot out an average 200 for the celebration. A 150-strong parade denotes a hard-up year for locals and migrant Balayeños.”
There wasn’t much fanfare to the celebration in the 1960s when Alano’s father took his brood of children to the Balayan Bay shoreline every June 24, goading the children to dip in as long as they want as re-enactment of the celebrated Baptist’s routine. Always, a suckling pig on a spit was brought along with either a jug or two of coconut vodka (lambanog) or cases of beer for the daylong thanksgiving feast.
Old-timers surmise that an-old fashioned “Parada ng Lechon” must have started in the 1900s, in a year after the infamous Bell Campaign that saw American soldiers slaughter native Batangueños 10 years old and above to effect a province-wide pacification. As a traditional piece de resistance to any Filipino feast, lechon was deemed an apt offering (atang, or food offering to placate unseen spirits).
“It was strictly a tradition begun by the more affluent residents of the town, mostly those who have taken residence in the western section of Balayan’s poblacion. This is a cluster of homes where the makers of bagoong, the traders, landowners, and market stallholders live. Entire clans would troop to the seashore with lechon and liquor in tow, go through the drenching rites of baptism, then, share the feast among themselves after prayers of thanks. That’s how this whole shebang began,” Alano noted.
To this day, “Parada ng Lechon” has remained a preserve of sorts by the families of Balayan’s western section who have organized in December 8, 1959 a fraternity called Hermandad San Juan Bautista to oversee the annual devotion.
The rites start out with the dapit (welcome) on June 14, followed by a nine-day novena on June 15-23 celebrated at the tuklong (Batangan word for chapel).
“The religious gives way to a frenzy of revelry on June 24,” Alano said.
Then again, June 24 is also a worldwide celebration of summer solstice; it is believed to be a magical time when faeries and benign spirits revel with mortals to partake of food offerings, and in turn, bestow blessings and great fortune to people who share their blessings with others.