It is arguably the coldest time of the year in the Northern hemisphere, though I have not been in other countries during the closing days of January and the beginning of February. If this statement is contradicted by the more traveled of my readers, then I will content myself with arguing that it is the coldest time of the year in Sagada.
Temperatures in that place have always been relatively colder than the surrounding places, owing to its higher altitude than, say, Bontoc. Besao is lower, too, and its temperatures are somewhat tempered by the air from the China Sea, for Besao is on the slopes of the mountains facing the sea.
Sagada, however, is some hundreds of meters above Bontoc, and it is sheltered in a valley of sorts between mountains, and thus the air from the China Sea does not aid in regulating its temperature. Even in Bontoc and Besao, the people regularly complain of the cold at this time of year, though people from these places would agree that indeed Sagada is consistently colder than their hometowns. Perhaps the only colder places in the vicinity are the Bauko villages of Bangnin and Balintuogan, which are located higher than Sagada.
It is coincidental that the feast day of the Anglican Church in Sagada is during this time. Because the church had greater power than government in American colonial times, its celebration of its feast day naturally became a community activity, accompanied by games and general festivities.
In earlier times, other parishes were invited to participate in the activities. Anglican church schools were also invited to the games, to compete with Sagada’s St. Mary’s School.
And so it became a tradition that during the coldest time of year people flock to Sagada to attend its fiesta. The municipal government later on made the occasion its town fiesta, and with the establishment of the many public schools in the municipality and neighboring municipalities, the fiesta became an even bigger occasion with more people participating. Later on, government offices and other local government units as well as private organizations would also want to participate in the games.
As the congregation of people became regular, enterprising vendors would also congregate in the town, so that during the fiesta there is scant space not filled with wares being sold. Such wares include every imaginable article, from cooking pots to clothing, from toys to vegetables, from dried fish to plastic ware. It became a habit of Sagada’s people to wait for the fiesta to buy new clothes and shoes, or bolos and pots, as well as tools like shovels, forks, and hammers.
The games during the occasion have been varied, from the ubiquitous softball, basketball and volleyball, to tug-of-war, breaking the pot, races, and indoor games. It is also undeniable that these more wholesome games are accompanied by the not-so-wholesome, for it is a public secret that for several decades already, the fiesta in Sagada is also the time when gamblers from all over get together to play Monte. There have been stories of gambling patrons losing the money they should have used to buy a new pair of pants, or a new hoe.
Even the youngsters are drawn into gambling, for it is not uncommon that during the fiesta some kids would find a secluded place in Sagada’s valleys and ridges where they imitate their elders by gambling away their lunch money.
Yet the fiesta in Sagada still holds a special allure, for people of all kinds congregate there during this time, whether to watch the ballgames, participate in the more boisterous tug-of-war, compete for prices in the races, or to chance winning in Monte. Earlier generations also took every opportunity to go home to Sagada during the fiesta, for it is also a time to meet old friends and peers.
Going home during the fiesta became so much of a tradition that not attending it was almost a sacrilege.
As this item comes out, the fiesta in Sagada would be in full blast, and the people actually there would once again be jubilant in their celebrations.