Synopsis : Who does not know the joys of festivals? This is the time when we all let down our guards and purely enjoy the colors, the sounds and the rituals that the festivals offer in every country. Life would be boring without the festivals.
When I was in Algeria working in Mostaganem, I was invited by my office mates to the Id ul Fitr festival in their village. This was unprecedented because in India the Moslems never invite you to their festivals and the Hindus do the same so I never had a chance to see how the Moslems celebrated until then.
So very happily I took the bus to their village and found my friends waiting for me at the bus stop to bring me to their home. There I was received like a royalty and made comfortable. Then the feast began that included very sumptuous meals of delicious lamb mutton on couscous with raisins and many side dishes. The ladies of the house kept bringing more food and urged me to eat but I was so full I could burst. They put the food in a big platter from which everyone eats.
The couscous is a national dish of Algeria but also for the entire Maghreb that includes Tunisia in the east and Morocco in the west and is made of bulgar wheat kernels that are cooked to perfection with butter and raisins. It is really very good when topped with delicious lamb.
Later we were given water that was kept in a goat skin bag hung from a tree that was sweet and fragrant because they put some herbs in it and I was told that the goat skin cools the water and makes the water so nice to drink.
We then went to see a movie but I can’t remember what it was all about but do remember their superb hospitality because not once they asked about my religion and I theirs and showed me friendship that is hard to believe. I have seen this hospitality in Moslems when I was asked to stay with the farm manager of Oued Rhiou where I was staying in a barn full of insecticide and fertilizer. The farm manager called Mohamed invited me to stay at his house because he felt that I as an Ingenieur should not stay in a barn .I was doing some research and experiments on rice in that area so with some trepidation I moved in with him and stayed there for a month. His lovely and young wife prepared my room and put a radio and a flask of water there every day.
This would never happen in India where the separation due to religion is rigorously maintained and my Moslem classmates would never invite me to their festivals but in Algeria it was different and they saw nothing wrong in inviting a Hindu to their home and during their festivals.
I think the time of festivals is the time to bring people of different culture together so that a bond is created and greater understanding is made of how other people live. The festivals are a time when people relax and enjoy because it is such a respite from the drudgery of routine life. It is the time to make merry, eat fabulous food, wear new clothes and shoes, clean and whitewash the dwellings, make new friends and bring joy to the routine life of the average man.
The farmers made the harvest festival the highlight of their hard life of plowing, planting and harvesting so it was their way to show thanks to the harvest patron saint called San Isidro de Labrador here in the Philippines but all over the world, the farmers show their appreciation to their saints and Gods for the bumper harvest so they celebrate.
Among the Sikhs, they dance in joy after the harvest in very colorful clothes when men and women all dance together in steps called Bhangra dance which is truly amazing. You would not believe that those burly Sikhs could dance so nimbly.
In Mexico which is a Catholic country, they have huge festivals after the harvest when they dance, sing and put out dazzling display of native costumes along with sumptuous meals and tequila that makes some people go overboard but they enjoy it just the same.
In America the farming is mostly done by large corporations and massive mechanization by which they have edged out the small private farmers so their festivals do not have much to do with farming as such but more to do with their national holidays like 4th of July or country fairs where kids bring in their sheep or goat or pigs for competition and win some prizes. This is to encourage children to raise animals in their farms and become successful farmers in the future.
The carnivals where the organizers put up Ferris wheels and merry-go-round for the kids to enjoy are done by professionals and not farmers but people enjoy just the same because it makes a break in their boring rural life. Various kiosks are set up to sell handicrafts and many things. The rodeos and country music keep people entertained. I attended one in the Mojave desert town of Rosemond once.
I had the privilege of participating in many such festivals and carnivals in many countries and got to know how people enjoy. Once I was in Tokyo and joined their Bongodori festival where people danced around the drummers in their traditional clothes of yokatta and fancy kimonos and thoroughly enjoyed it even if I could not understand the Japanese music or their language because people accepted me as a participant and it did not matter to them that I was a foreigner.
This is the beauty of festivals when people open their hearts to strangers and try to make them feel welcome to join in their celebration. If you happen to be in Munich during their beer festival, you will be filled with beer until you cry uncle and made to dance with their buxom lasses who will throw in a few kisses at no extra charge just because everybody is celebrating and in a jovial mood.
I think that the joyful celebrations are very ancient in tradition in most countries because it served a very important social function. It brought people together to have fun and forget their petty differences and problems. In England the royalties organized May festivals when love was in the air so pretty young women and dashing young men danced together with an eye on their future bride or husband so it was called the spring festival after the long gloomy and often harsh winter to coincide with the nature’s bounty at that time.
In other countries like in India, there are numerous festivals mostly regional in nature but celebrated with pomp and pageantry that is breathtaking. Just go to Annam festival in Kerala sometime in October or Pushkar fair in Rajasthan in November or Bengali Durga Pooja in October and you will see a very different India at that time. Then there is Holi which is the color festival and Divali which is the festival of lamps just to name a few.
What we as kids waited for anxiously each year was the Durga Pooja festival when we got new clothes and shoes and when the parents were somewhat lenient so we tried to stretch the limit a bit but it was great fun just the same.
Once we were in Mexico city enjoying the celebrations there on the occasion of the feast of Guadalupe in front of the basilica of Guadalupe and were amazed at the sheer number of people dressed in Aztec fineries and feathers joyously dancing to music. The pick pockets were busy as well is another matter but we took lots of photos to remember that day.
In Africa where I spent quite some time of my life, I saw many dances in villages where the farmers and their kids enjoyed the fun after the harvest and often joined them dancing and beating their crude homemade cymbals making a racket.
Their balafonists and guitarists are superb to say the least and made music to liven up the crowd that waited to see the birdman and what he would do. This birdman was a mysterious fellow totally covered in feathers and wearing a mask of a bird who just chirped like a bird which was then interpreted by a shaman who asked questions regarding the weather, the harvest and sundry items and got his reply in chirps that he claimed to understand. People enjoyed these shows immensely. The fire was kept going , the kids fell asleep and the women just let them lie in the dirt but the show went on until wee hours such was their enthusiasm.
In Vietnam I was amused by their opera that they showed in small towns and were actually itinerant artists dressed in traditional flowing clothes who jumped and shrieked with the clash of cymbals and ear splitting flute music that kept people spell bound and entertained though I could not understand a word of it. There was a serious war going on there in 1967 so people really needed this brief respite and enjoyed it.
Here in the Philippines the fiesta is taken seriously and all the barrios celebrate their patron saints all over the country but not on the same day so there is a fiesta going on somewhere every day. People prepare a lot of local dishes and offer to anyone who cares to eat it. The beer, the lambanog made from coconut sap and various other concoctions flow freely and some people get tipsy but hey it is fiesta. The fiesta of Lucban in Laguna is well known where their patron saint San Isidro de Labrador who is the saint of farmers is celebrated.
The tomato throwing festival in Spain, the chasing bulls and other dangerous sports are all part of their celebration where some people get hurt but hey it is only once a year so let us do foolish things and get dirty. Who cares?
I like safe festivals .The fire walking and piercing the cheek and nose etc. is not my thing but some people feel that fire walking is fun and do it every year even if they get burned. Running in front of crazy bulls who are hell bent on goring you is also not my thing but ask a Spaniard why he takes such risks and he will say Oh it is fun. The bungee jumpers also claim it is fun until their rope snaps one day.
The point is that the festivals serve a very useful purpose of bringing people together. How else could I have tasted the wonderful lamb and couscous during their Id ul Fitr in Algeria if they had not invited me?
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