Monday, May 01, 2006

Pampanga: El Circulo Fernandino, keeping up with social tradition

The City of San Fernando, Pampanga is host to many festivals, events and traditions. Every Good Friday, people flock to San Pedro Cutud to witness the reenactment of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ by several penitents. Along the route are hundreds of flagellants. In the afternoon, elegant heirloom carrozas and santos are taken out for the largest Good Friday procession in Pampanga which goes around old San Fernando (check out some photos here). In October, there is the Piestang Tugak (Frog Festival) which was first held in 2003 when I was still City Tourism Officer of San Fernando. Throughout the years, it has attracted the crowds and the media with its padwasan (frog-fishing), frog cooking contests and other unique activities. It is now a much-awaited event of San Fernando.

In December, there are the Sinukwan Festival and Pampanga's week-long celebration of Aldo ning Kapampangan (Pampanga Day) commemorating the birth of the country's oldest province, and the Giant Lantern Festival, which I have already discussed in another entry. And then there is May 30 and the San Fernando fiesta. And to start off the celebrations is the El Circulo Fernandino annual reception and ball which was held yesterday night.

It is indeed the most prestigious social event in Pampanga where, as in the olden days, women would flaunt their best jewelry, gowns and ternos, and men would elegantly dress in their best piña barongs, and dance the night away. El Circulo Fernandino is the oldest surviving social club in Pampanga. Formed sometime in 1920, it was an organization for the social elite of San Fernando. Its precursor was the La Gente Alegre de San Fernando (The Merry Folks).

According to John Larkin in his book The Pampangans, “a new phenomenon, town and provincial social clubs, which sprang up in the early American years, demonstrated how the native upper class flourished under the new regime. These organizations, exclusively for the elite, provided among other things an opportunity for young single adults to socialize with and meet others of the same age and class.”

Larkin later mentions, “the Pampangan elite, a greater number of them emulating late nineteenth century patterns of behavior, turned their attention to peer group organizations, politics, and extra provincial activities. They resolved many if their economic and political problems by banding together into various agricultural organizations and political parties. The trend toward forming upper-class social clubs for amusement also continued. Such groups as the Young Generation in Macabebe, the Kundiman in Angeles, and the Circulo Fernandino in San Fernando were all patterned after organizations formed in the early American years.” Also worth mentioning is the fact that when the town of Santo Tomas was still part of San Fernando, the Thomasian, an organization which organized the annual Sabado de Gloria Ball, was formed. The ball is the oldest uninterrupted social event in Pampanga.

El Circulo Fernandino organized annuals balls and receptions to achieve this end. All of it however stopped as a result of the hostilities during the Second World War. After the war, the organization again resumed its social activities. But the annual receptions were halted again in 1987.

It was only in 1997 that the organization decided to revive its annual receptions under the presidency of Engr. Angelo David and Dr. Leticia Cordero-Yap. The El Circulo Fernandino Foundation, Inc. was born as a result of this revival, transforming the organization from a strictly social-status club to a socially-involved organization.

On its 86th year, El Circulo Fernandino is the most-awaited annual social event in the province of Pampanga, where the crème de la crème meet. As part of keeping up with Filipino traditions, the immortal dance classic, the rigodon de honor, is performed by the prominent citizens of the City, men in their best piña barongs and women in dazzling and colorful ternos.

I've been part of this tradition for the past four years now and it is a really fulfilling experience knowing that you are continuing an old tradition initiated scores ago by your own forefathers.
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