THE FEAST OF JOHN THE BAPTIST – WATER AND MUD
The feast day of St. John the Baptist is celebrated in the Philippines every June 24 of the year. It is highly celebrated by pouring water on each other and on visitors. The practice is more pronounced in the city of San Juan, named after the saint. Revelers splash water on the main roads that outsiders pass through and each year, unsuspecting travelers fall prey to revelry that gets out of hand.
The residences of San Juan called this festival “Wattah Wattah” festival or the feast of their patron saint – St. John the Baptist. Catholics celebrated this annual colorful festival by parading the statue of St John giving the water baptism to Jesus Christ to the streets of San Juan city while firemen spray water to the procession.
People of San Juan go out of their house and join the crowd on this day of merry making. Children are laughing while chasing each other. They throw water to their playmates as hard as they can. They also used water guns. The older folks used water hose. Some used buckets of water in-front of their houses. Fire trucks used to join the procession. It is meant to remember the significant role played by St. John in baptizing Jesus Christ.
Elsewhere in the country, the feast day of St. John the Baptist is observed by splashing water on revelers or passersby.
But in the remote farming village of Barangay Bibiclat, at the town of Aliaga, province of Nueva Ecija, the local residents here celebrate the St. John the Baptist festive day in a different way. Devotees emerge as the “Mud People,” and the celebration is called “Mud People Festival.”
The devotees of St. John the Baptist appear in public at dawn, once a year, every June 24.
These devotees appear covered all over with mud and banana leaves and stalks. They walk the streets of Bibiclat, house to house begging for alms in the form of candles or cash to buy candles for the deity of St. John. The householders pleasingly oblige by giving them money or candles in the belief that this would be compensated with blessings.
They spread their body including the face with mud, men, women and even children. Their attire is soaked in a mixture of muddy water early evening until it is retrieved for the dawn ritual the next day. The ritual was first called the “Pag-asa San Juan” meaning St. John’s hope which later became the Mud People Festival is done instead of the usual splashing of water like celebrated in other parts of the country.
Their transformation into mud people, participants say they are able to simulate St. john the Baptist, who appears in most Bible stories dressed like a beggar.
The ritual takes place in different places in the village between early morning of 3 to 4 am of June 24. After the ritual, the devotees gather at the church yard for Mass offering. After the Mass, they leave the church to clean-up their bodies; the last part of the ritual. This time they can now join their family members and friends to celebrate and welcome the visitors to the fiesta celebration.
Tales from the origin of this ritual is still unknown up this time. Researches from the State University in the Science City of Central Luzon uncovered stories on how the ritual came about. One legend from the local folks tells that the image of St. John the Baptist that helped the people of the village to drive away huge volumes of snakes that roamed in the village in the early days. The name “Biblicat” originated from the word “biclat’ meaning snake.