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Feasts are a huge part of parish life in the Philippines. From May each year, San Pascual Baylon Church holds a three-day feast that draws people from throughout the country for Masses, long dancing processions through the streets, and frenzied devotion inside the church. Couples who come to the city do so having heard stories of people who had struggled for years to have children, and finally were able to after visiting or dancing in the feast. The couples hope for the same for themselves, or come as a panata , in fulfillment of a vow, to give thanks for children who they believe were born through this intercession.
Others come to Obando for a variety of reasons, but the feast is best known for its fertility dance. The origins of the feast are uncertain. Colonial records attest to the celebration of these feast days consecutively during the Spanish colonial period. The fertility dance is likely a Christianized version of a pre-Christian fertility celebration called kasilonawan , where local babaylans dancers danced as an offering to the deities of nature.
It appears that the Spaniards introduced Christianity in part by substituting Christian saints for these deities, with Santa Clara taking on the role of preventing and curing infertility. The connection between the life stories of San Pascual Baylon and Santa Clara and the particular causes they represent at Obando is difficult to discern. Santa Clara is associated with fertility elsewhere in the Philippines as well, and is symbolically connected to eggs, but her connection is difficult to discern, given that Clara was a celibate nun.
When the brothers tried to take the Virgin to their hometown, the boat became heavy and immobile, but when they propelled their vessel toward Obando, the boat moved swiftly. They concluded that the Virgin preferred to be enshrined in Obando, and she is always portrayed there with nets around her.
The original image of the Virgin, barely a foot high, and the other images in the church were burned when the Japanese bombed the church in , and new, larger images were carved to take their place. Rome Fernandez, collaborated with the local commission on culture to lift the ban and revive the lively street dancing ritual.