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Christmas and other entertainments

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Entertaining the people of Negros Oriental appears to have become an official function of government.

The Buglasan Festival in October is, of course, the “major major” enterprise with activities covering anything and everything from military parade to photo exhibit to sports events, dance competitions, talent nights, children’s events from hip-hop, dance and singing competitions, as well as the same for seniors, live bands, the obligatory street dancing, crowning of “king and queen” and fireworks, sales booths, awards, and endlessly on for all of 16 days.

And hardly has the dust settled on when it’s Sandurot time followed by the Dumaguete City fiesta in November. And hardly are those over when the Province’s official website Buglas News Central announces: “The provincial government of Negros Oriental is bringing entertainment to Negrenses in the Pasko sa Sidlakan 2010.

Oh yes, please, we so need to be entertained!

So what is the provincial government offering this time? Why, dance sport, K-Pop (whatever that is), minus-one singing of carols, parade of bands (in Christmas attire!), belen competition, fashion show, ham-making contest, as well as the lighting of a giant tree.

Other municipalities and cities are no slouches either. Where I live, the local fiesta has now inflated to a month and a half-long affair of at least five successive noisy disco dances, martial arts demonstration, live bands and “battle of the bands”, variety show, beauty contest, mountain bike race, off-road “extreme challenge”, street parade, basketball games, talent show, fireworks, of course, games and karambola, etc. That’s some overload of entertainment!

Whatever happened to the fiesta as tribute to the town’s religious patron? Well, all of these events do include an opening mass or religious service and sometimes, a procession, as a vestige of the original, historical meaning of the fiesta, but that’s practically reduced to the level of a pretext. There’s no mistaking today’s real intent: to entertain the people.

There must be some political calculation behind all this entertainment for, after all, considerable mobilization of government employees, working time, and resources are required, not to mention that of civil society.

Conventional justifications include the goals of building community spirit and cohesion, promoting tourism, or gaining economic profit.

Now, on this latter point, I don’t think anyone has seen any serious accounting of actual expenses and profits; instead, there are statements by the organizers about hotels, restaurants, tricycles being patronized and products being sold, but that doesn’t add up to an economic analysis.

How smaller town fiestas justify their expenditures is even more vague, considering the plethora of inane activities.

Perhaps bolstering the administrations’ popularity is the real goal. Or to make people briefly forget the inadequacy of government programs and services.

This isn’t to say that fiestas and festivals have no value. Sports promotion, especially for the young, is a great objective. But then we’d need to see real and well-funded sports development programs in place in the Province or towns, and the festival or fiesta could then showcase what has been achieved.

Cultural development is a great goal, but all those bulilit or senior minus-one contests, the extravagant costumes and choreographed moves of street dancing can only by a stretch fall under that category.

Product development and promotion would be great, but why was there hardly anything new or of interest in those many Sidlakan booths?

In these times of critical problems calling for serious and urgent responses from government, the decent and responsible thing would be to scale-down the extravagance, to eliminate the unnecessary and the environmentally damaging, to simplify.

Christmas should be the best time of year, for children and families and communities. It does not need to be cheapened by more mindless entertainment.

My own best Christmas memories are of lovely midnight choral concerts in church, of family gatherings and children’s happiness.

May your holidays be joyful!

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