Monday, November 05, 2007

Halloween, Philippine style

On Hallow’s Eve last week, I was driving home humming with anticipation of the four-day respite when I found myself stuck in limbo.

At the San Andres Bukid District, vehicles were going around and around side streets trying to find a way to get to where ever it was they were headed for before they got confronted by “No Entry” road signs that miraculously sprouted in the middle of some streets. Why and how people are allowed to take it upon themselves to appropriate public streets and turn them into private venues for parties and other occasions is truly a curious thing.

One can understand when people transform streets into public plazas that serve as venue for all kinds of merrymaking during fiestas and even special occasions such as Christmas and New Year’s Eve. And we all know that during elections, streets also transform into political campaign sites.

We have even learned to empathize when streets become venues for funeral wakes. We make allowances automatically assuming that the bereaved family is probably hard put to hold the wake of their dearly departed in some funeral parlor. It’s discomfiting but we’ve been conditioned to accept these things; particularly since local officials tolerate the practice as can be gleaned from the wreaths bearing their names that inevitably get displayed very proudly in these street wakes. Besides, we do have profound respect for the dead as evidenced by the way we risk life and limb to be at the graves of our dear departed during All Saints’ Day.

I have been made to understand that it is practices like these that ensure votes during elections and that certain local executives have become experts in this kind of political maneuver.

Over in Makati City, for example, urban legend has it that Mayor Jejomar Binay scours the city for funeral wakes at nighttime, making sure that he drops in at every single one of them to personally condone with the bereaved family. I suspect that there is some truth to this as I have personally encountered the mayor at least three times in such a, well, circumstance. I have no doubt that Binay means well, of course. Say what you will about him and his politics but Binay is unbeatable in Makati for one reason: He is in touch with the issues of the poor in Makati. Now, most local executives have copied Binay’s example although I can’t say the same of their motivations.

But it is a different thing altogether when the reason for the roadblocks turns out to be a private party. It gives another dimension to the concept of people power. Then again, this is the Philippines, far stranger things happen and we have learned to take all these aggravations in stride.

Anyway. To go back to what happened Wednesday night last week, the reasons for the roadblocks were, well, three Halloween parties held in the middle of the streets. I don’t know if it was an intentional Halloween trick directed at hapless motorists; but it certainly looked and felt like one.

All three parties were for little tykes who were, not surprisingly, dressed up for the occasion in what is now being passed off as Halloween costumes, Philippine style, which means being dressed to the nines in ball gowns as little beauty queens or as fairies. How Halloween has transformed into an occasion for preening and strutting around like peacocks instead of scaring people off is a curious thing indeed. In the words of one friend who was born a social critic, Halloween in the Philippines is “one big party where everyone shows up in drag.”

When even San Andres Bukid has started to put up its own Halloween parties, we know that celebrating Halloween has finally found its way into Philippine culture.

It’s just a matter of time before the whole thing becomes yet another major event that people actually prepare for. I can already see it. Around this time next year, more and more kids will be badgering their parents into buying Halloween costumes that they will get to wear only once.

And we know of course that many parents are just as thrilled to oblige given the way many among us find some perverse pleasure in finding occasions to dress up our kids and display them in public. No need to put up money to get our kids chosen as Mr. and Miss Popularity so they can be paraded in all their feathered and sequined.

At Megamall last year, my friends and I didn’t quite know how to react to the sight of costumed infants (as in months-old babies!) being wheeled around in cribs and strollers. The parents sure had fun trick or treating around the many shops in Megamall, while their poor little Count Draculas or baby Tinkerbells sweated and itched in those costumes. The kids weren’t even old enough to eat the loot. I wonder how many hours of counseling would be required when they become adults.

I have never been to the United States so I have never experienced celebrating Halloween the way the Americans do. But then again, given our never-ending fascination with anything American and the way we ape their culture, it is kind of expected that many among us would be familiar with the way Halloween is celebrated in the US.

We have our own local traditions about Halloween; but sadly these have disappeared. As a child growing up in the province, I was exposed to the way grownups would play tricks on the eve of All Saints’ Day. Nangangaluluwa was what it was called, which referred to the way a band of mischievous boys would serenade households while doing indulging in naughty stuff like stealing a chicken, or picking the fruits and vegetables growing in the backyard.

By the time I was old enough to join the fun, the tradition was no longer fashionable. Perhaps because electricity became readily available and it became almost impossible to play tricks without being caught. Also, the options for entertainment became more varied.

In the ’80s, only the very brave and the very adventurous dared to dress up on Halloween and roam the bars in Malate. It was a novelty then and establishments had to organize elaborate parties and put up attractive prizes to entice people to hit the bars in their costumes. Today, being in costume while partying on Halloween has become the norm rather than the exception.

The horror of it is that not wearing anything at all has qualified as a “costume” as well. My friends and I didn’t quite know what to make of the sight of grown ups parading around in the skimpiest undies around Malate last week. It took the concept of “scaring people off” to new heights. And it’s not limited to Malate anymore.

Naturally, malls and stores have jumped into the act and capitalized on the fad to make more business. Malls now have their own trick or treat events and kids in costumes with their loot bags have started to invade malls on designated dates.

Halloween is becoming bigger and bigger in the Philippines and we have turned the whole thing in its head. At Malate, which has long been the seat of Manila’s Bohemian culture, Halloween has been a major attraction in the last two decades. It’s the one night that competes with the annual Gay Pride party in terms of gaudiness. It took some time, but now that we have gotten into the act, we seem to be making up for lost time.

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