By Ellen Desear-Espiritu
Of all the Philippine festivities I have been to, this is one of those that I have not seen, and yet it’s probably the biggest and most important festivity in southern Philippines.
Thanks to an invitation from a very accommodating Jeanette Marie Croucher who has been organising this event in Deer Park (western Melbourne) for three years now, I was able to witness it here in Melbourne on the 13th of January.
“We started with just a few friends with only 12 dancers and 300 guests. Then, (on the second year) we had 500. Now, we prepared 900 plates and all (were) gone,” she said.
As tradition would have it, the festival began with a mass held at the St Peter Chanel Parish Church on 848 Ballarat Road Deer Park. A group of costume-clad dancers with bright yellow satin dresses and red ribbon trimmings paraded from the church towards the hall and others carried mini statues of the patron saint Sto Niño and dancing to the tune of the upbeat Ati-Atihan.
It was, as any Filipino festival, full of energy, food, and music. Christian Uson, Mikey Austin, Avi Ganesan and Kepler Ryan of Jazzatomika entertained the crowd with some awesome jazz numbers, while the crowd enjoyed lechon and pansit among other food.
A week later, another Sinulog Festival was held south east of Melbourne at the St Andrews Church on Springs Road Clayton. It was a balmy 26 degrees, and just perfect to enjoy the outdoors with some barbie, cold drinks, live music, and the company of good friends. People sprawled across the vast Namatjira Park. Some put up their own tents, while some occupied the benches and picnic shelters.
Organiser Edgar Lagrito, who also heads the AVAVI, or the Australian Visayan Association of Victoria, admitted the crowd was overwhelming every year since he organised this event about 30 years ago.
“I was worried our food won’t be enough to feed these people but look how volunteers brought their own and shared it with everyone,” he said.
The crowd was indeed overwhelming yet it was truly fun-filled overall. There were some gracious ladies passing plastic plates and forks with slices of the ubiquitous lechon for special occasions and pansit. Some kids were trying out the outdoor gym equipment at the park even though it’s obvious they were below the age limit of 12. And then, there was a group of teens looking somehow unamused by the live band’s ‘90s new wave music, but couldn’t help hum and tap their toes when the next band played Rolling in the Deep.
“That’s the whole purpose of the festival – to get together as one community, as one family and help each other. No division, no politics, no commercialism,” Lagrito emphasised.
Though one may wonder (as I was once asked) why we have two Sinulog festivals (there’s actually another in Hoppers Crossing), I guess what’s important is that we had a good time and we helped each other keep the spirit of community alive.
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