The week before All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, Vigan City, the capital of Ilocos Sur, was bustling with tourists. They came in droves during what used to be a low season for the heritage city, famous for having the largest concentration of old houses in the Philippines and as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage site. When the dark fell, the city center became more festive, the locals joining the tourists for the events and activities of the Raniag: Vigan Twilight Festival, an expanded celebration of the Undas and Halloween, a Western holiday that has become increasingly popular in the country.
“Our peak season used to be summer. Recently, there seems to be no low season,” said Eva Marie Medina, who had been Vigan City’s mayor for many years.
She credited this partly to the Tarlac–Pangasinan–La Union Expressway (TPLEx), an 88.85-kilometer, four-lane expressway in Central Luzon, which opened a few years ago and lessened travel time, to Vigan, 408 kilometers from Manila, on the eastern seaboard of northern Luzon.
Also, aside from the lovely charm of Vigan’s heritage and Ilocano culture, the tourists are drawn here by different events.
“We have six special events in a year. It’s our strategy to bring in more tourists,” Medina revealed.
The festivities start with the Longganisa Festival in the middle of January, which leads to the feast day of the conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle, the city’s patron saint, on January 25. The Holy Week during the summer also draws lots of crowds and is full of religious traditions. The Viva Vigan Binatbatan Festival of the Arts is held in the first week of May, with the celebration of the feast day of the Black Nazarene of Vigan’s Simbaan a Bassit, popularly called Apo Santo Cristo or Apo Lakay. The UNESCO World Heritage Cities Solidarity Cultural Festival in turn is held in early September. The Raniag: Vigan Twilight Festival, the youngest of these festivals which is now on its sixth year, caps off the year.
“We are thinking of a food festival to be held in December,” revealed Medina, who also said that they want to highlight how delicious Ilocano food is and how rich the culinary traditions are.
This year, the Raniag Festival is held from October 21 to 31, 2016, incorporating old customs and traditions of Undas as well as introducing new events.
“When I was young, when I was studying in Manila, I always looked forward to October, kasi makikita mo mga relatives mo, mga kaibigan mo. It’s a time for getting together and merry making while remembering our dearly departed,” Medina related. “I thought why not create a festival so that homecomings will be more festive at may relevance talaga. Thus, Raniag Festival was developed. First, it was a two- to three-day affair. Now, it is a weeklong festivity.”
Raniag means “light” in Ilocano and for Medina lights are always connected with All Soul’s Day or Undas. “We always light candles for our dearly departed,” she said.
Thus, all activities are held during twilights and nights to emphasize the use and beauty of lights.
“Many of the festival’s features have connections to religious activities and local customs and traditions,” Medina added. “I remember when we were little children, we got together and played at the plaza. We ate arroz caldo. That’s why we have the Arrozcalduhan sa Plaza Burgos as well as games and entertainment.”
The festival was highlighted by the Raniag Electric Float Parade, in which little floats, with colorful lights and depicting fictional and urban legend characters related to Halloween, paraded around the city center. Also a main event was street dancing competition with several groups of usually students danced with lights and Halloween themes.
In between, there was Flight of Sky Lanterns at the modern Jardin de Caridad Memorial Park. The event was inspired by the Yi Peng Festival of Thailand, famous for its use of sky lanterns, which is Chinese in origin. The lanterns were adopted for the local custom.
“It has been a tradition for people to visit the graves of their loved ones,” Medina said. “With the sky lanterns, mas madaling umabot sa langit ang prayers and wishes mo as well as messages to our dearly departed.”
“It is a time for remembering and for reunions as well as a way of thanking the Lord for giving us the gift of life,” she added.
Another major component of the festival was the World Costume Festival. Organized with the Organization of International Scenographers, Theater Architects and Technicians, the first World Costume Festival was held in May 2013 in Vigan with entries from Indonesia, Brazil, Japan, Bangladesh, Georgia and the Philippines.
“When we first hosted the World Costume Festival, it was included in the Viva Vigan! Festival of the Arts, but we thought that it is more appropriate for the Raniag Festival. Additionally, it is a more comfortable time for foreigners since May is very hot,” Medina said.
The second holding of this showcase of imaginative fashion draw participants from different countries including Indonesia, Japan and the United States. These were paraded on the streets together with the costumes of co-sponsor GMA Network’s fantasy television series Encantadia (2005), Indio (2013) and Kambal Sirena (2014). The entry titled “Prabha” of the Faculty of Engineering of Yogyakarta State University in Indonesia was adjudged champion.
Other Raniag events were the Candle Floater Ceremonies and Acoustic Competition at the Celedonia Garden in the barangay of Beddeng Laud; the opening of a horror house at the Leona Florentino House; a trick-or-treat activity around the city; a Halloween party at the Legacy Superclub on Calle Crisologo; a Pokemon Lure Party at the city hall; and the Black Light Color Run.
While Raniag: Vigan Twilight Festival seemed inclined to be more festive, this year’s celebration acquired an added meaning after typhoon Haima, locally known as Lawin, the strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines in 2016, battered northern Luzon, including Ilocos Sur, on October 19. According to acting mayor Kisses Agdamag-Lim, the lights of Raniag Festival came to symbolize hope and rising from the disaster.