St. John the Baptist’s Day in the Philippines

Since St. John the Baptist’s big feast day is June 24th, it includes the longest possible daytime for partying. Since he’s also a pretty important and beloved saint, this has led to all kinds of customs that are fun.

Here’s a photo-essay from the Telegraph earlier this year, about St. John the Baptist’s Day in the Philippines, with a look at some pretty incredible processions and feast day customs. Since it doesn’t give much info to go with the pictures, I looked some up.

In many towns near Manila, there’s a roast pig procession called the Pig Parade or “Parada ng Lechon,” in which the roasts are costumed for maximum whimsy. (It also protects them from all the waterfights and drenchings that occur, to remind people of their Baptisms in a way traditional to many summer Christological feasts.) The people start out the day by going to an early morning Mass, parking the roast pigs and their parade accessories outside. After Mass, the roast pigs are blessed and the procession begins. Some onlookers try to knock down the roast pigs and steal bites from them. When the parade gets to its destination, there’s a bunch of food set up and the pigs are stripped of their finery. Everybody has a nice pigpull picnic, and prizes are awarded to the pig-fashionistas in various pig categories.🙂

In Manila, it’s pretty much total squirt-gun and bucket warfare. Heh, heh, heh. That’ll teach you to remember your Baptism!

There’s another festival up north for St. John the Baptist, colloquially called “Taong Putik” or the Mud People. (Its local name is just Pagsa San-Juan.) Back during WWII, in the village of Bibiclat near Aliaga, Nueva Ecija, 13 Japanese soldiers were killed or disappeared. As retaliation, the Japanese rounded up every man in the village. It started raining so hard that the Japanese herded the men into church before killing them. Miraculously, the Japanese changed their mind and went off without killing anyone. The villagers attributed their deliverance to the intercession of St. John the Baptist,* and decided that from now on, they would pay tribute to him on his feast day by dressing up like him.

The problem was that there’s not much in the way of camel hair sackcloth garments in a village up north in the Philippines, especially in 1945 when they started it. So the villagers looked at the fuzzy tunic pictured on their patron saint’s local statue, and they decided the best they could do locally was to make garments out of dried banana or coconut leaves, or even fresh green vines. The mud has various explanations, but it’s apparently used as a replacement for the ashes in “sackcloth and ashes.” The mud represents repentance and humility.

These days, the main activities are going house-to-house in costume in the morning, in small groups, to collect money to honor St. John with candles (pretty typical “guising”). Later on, they set up the candles in the town square (where the church is) and light them while praying, thanking St. John for his previous intercessions and asking him to intercede for new needs. Then they go to an outdoor Mass right outside church, while still in costume. After Mass, there’s a procession of the saint’s statue around town and back to the parish church, including a marching band of musicians in less elaborate costume (so they can play without hindrance).

So basically your typical devotional guild activities, except they look a little more exotic when carried out in a jungle town instead of in Spain, or with roast pigs instead of crazy puppets. Naturally some people online are all “it’s pagan, it’s pagan!” Sigh.

* Because there’d been an earlier miracle when they first got the statue – all the local poisonous snakes left the village. Which was a big thing, because Bibiclat meant “snake.”

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