Pampanga has many shrines that attract pilgrimages, including the Apung Mamacalulu Shrine in Angeles, the Cabetican Shrine in Bacolor, the Virgen de los Remedios Shrine in Baliti, San Fernando, and of course, the Sta. Lucia Shrine in Sasmuan, which is the oldest, because a Spanish missionary, Fray Gaspar de San Agustin, wrote in 1698 that an image of St. Lucy had been venerated in Sasmuan "since long ago."

Sasmuan is the Kapampangan counterpart of Obando, Bulacan, where barren women dance to get pregnant. I have personally met folks who swear that their children are all fruits of the kuraldal—the term used for the fertility dance that pilgrims and devotees perform during the Christmas season from the feast of the town’s patron saint, St. Lucy, on Dec. 13, to the feast of the Three Kings (Epiphany) on January 6.

Actually, there are many variations of kuraldal—there’s one in Betis, another in Macabebe (where it's usually called batalla), another in the Kapampangan towns of Bataan, and of course, the mother of all kuraldals, the Sasmuan kuraldal, which itself has two versions: the one that's done at daytime and the one that's done at night, which is the more violent one, maybe because some dancers are already inebriated by then, or maybe because the cloak of darkness makes people shed their inhibitions.

Why barren wives suddenly get pregnant after one night of kuraldal can be explained partly by the force of their faith, and partly by the force of their mad gyrations which can get even the most atrophied ovary come to life.

It's a mystery to me how St. Lucy, who is supposedly the patron saint of people with eye problems (the historical St. Lucy was martyred by being stabbed and having her eyes gouged out), had inspired a fertility ritual for childless couples instead. The Catholic Church probably made an effort to minimize the pilgrims’ obsession with the shrine’s fertility powers by emphasizing miraculous healings instead—hence, the popular cry “Viva Apu Lucia! Puera sakit!”—but the dance-for-baby kuraldal has persisted and probably even thrived. The kuraldal as a fertility ritual probably preceded the town's foundation as a parish; the Spanish missionaries probably superimposed the devotion to St. Lucy over a more ancient pagan ritual, as they often did with other pagan practices in other parts of the country.

Kapampangans living in the northern towns like Angeles, Mabalacat, Magalang and Porac aren’t familiar at all with kuraldal. Many, in fact, haven’t been to Sasmuan at all or can’t locate it on the map. I urge you to make Sasmuan a destination this December and learn more about Kapampangan faith and understand better Kapampangan culture.