DO WE Filipinos observe some sort of thanksgiving for the blessings bestowed by our Lord God Jesus Christ? I believe we do and it’s done in a number of ways, customs, habits, and traditions.
In Northern America in the United States and Canada, “Thanksgiving Day” is celebrated every last Thursday in November for blessings received in the past months. It is also a declared national holiday.
This celebration, although made as a tradition by Christian pilgrims in the 17th century, is now observed by other believers who migrated to these two leading western countries.
It all started as a harvest festival in 1621 by English pilgrims in Plymouth among the Wampanoag Indian community. It has generated a rich legend, symbolism, and a traditional fare of meals consisting of turkey, potatoes, pumpkin, cranberries, and whatever harvested in the farms.
It has transcended into a must family dinner though in the past two and half centuries. It was in 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln acknowledged the harvest thanksgiving as a special day. Subsequently succeeding U.S. Presidents declared every 4th Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day until 1941 when Congress declared that day as a holiday.
Generally, as Filipinos, we do honor the Lords’ blessings symbolized with our traditional town fiestas. It coincides with the commemorative day of the Roman Catholic Church declared patron saint. The day starts with religious ceremonies, followed by a community parade, circus at the plaza, etc., and other festivities that would normally last up to three days.
Every household lavishly prepares varieties of food for family, relatives, and visitors including strangers. It is a costly thanksgiving celebration where families could hardly afford. In most cases than none, some would go to the extent of getting in-depth and made payable until the next fiesta.
The late Senator Raul Manglapuz in the early 1960s attempted to correct this cultural malady where families go in-depth for a fiesta celebration or thanksgiving event. He proposed a bill in an attempt to abolish town or barrio fiestas in the country if it were a reason for rural folks to avoid falling into unpaid loans. And more importantly, he wished for them to reassess their financial spending priorities.
In his run for the presidency in 1965, this issue was raised against him and he miserably lost like a third placer. Manglapuz was the candidate of the young generation then who admired his idealism and dreams of moving the country to a higher level of economic stability.
In the Cordilleras, indigenous mountain tribes in Kalinga, Abra, Apayao, Mt. Province, Ifugao, and Benguet have their own cultural and traditional ways of thanksgiving. Christianity however, has submerged most of those traditions such as prayers to solely worldly and heavenly deities.
Nonetheless, most native families continue to perform traditional thanksgiving rituals for good fortune, good harvest either of rice and vegetables in the farmlands or precious gold nuggets in the pocket mines.
The cañao in Benguet communities seems to be the most popular. Families, the rich and not so affluent, carry out this ritual as a must obligation to the spirits of ancestors for their “intercession” to the Almighty Creator.
The Ifugaos who curved those mountains into rice terraces and known as the “8th wonder of the world” have their own piece of fortuity celebration called “bakle” (rice cake).
The festivity is more fun in the making of the rice cake. It starts with pounding or pulverizing of the newly harvested rice after the native priest has made the offertory of butchered animals to ancestors. Native rice wine flows among the workers all, women and children included, that triggers laughter and songs.
I am not so familiar with the rituals of the other tribes in this mountain region, but certainly, there is one common practice or habit of thanksgiving. It is called “paltik” where one offers a drink to the spirits of their own ancestors. It is done in a simple ceremony by spilling drops of wine or liquor before one takes his first sip.
Those who fail to perform this ritual either suffer a disturbing drunken stupor or heavy hang-over, so I am told.
Among lowlander drinkers, their “paltik” is shared with their own devils. With their pointed finger, they sprinkle their drinks around in a short distance with the words: “for the devil.” But some devils are missed and irked resulting in unruly behavior and bad company.
Thanksgiving celebration is to the Lord God Almighty for all His graces and blessings.