Patron saint festivals enliven the countryside

Patron saint festivals are sacred in rural villages, but there is also a worldly aspect to them and a dash of popular culture.

The party calendar kicks off with the celebration of Corpus Christi, representing the struggle for power between forces of good and evil. It is held 62 days after Maundy Thursday.

Celebrated since colonial times, the dancers don colorful masks and vivacious costumes to take to the streets of Parita, in Herrera Province, La Villa de Los Santos, and La Chorrera in western Panama.

It all starts in La Villa de Los Santos with a festival lasting eight days long, where the main attraction for visitors is performances of over 25 local and foreign dances.

One of the days in La Villa is dedicated to tourism, seeing how festivals inject valuable economic resources into the villages of the region.

"Being able to enjoy the dances by dirty devils, clean devils, Spanish montezumas, bulls, gallotes, mojigangas, and parrampanes is an unforgettable experience that reveals the customs and traditions of our towns," comments Arístides Burgos, President of the Miguel Leguísamo Association for Dance Preservation in La Villa de Los Santos.

In Parita, unlike other villages, their quartering the sun ceremony means the devils will divvy up the world. When the Parita devil appears on the scene, his duty is to distract the she-devil by gesticulating and flirting to keep her from participating in the distribution of the world.

In countryside towns, once the religious celebrations are completed the popular festivals take over, drawing crowds of locals and foreign visitors who stimulate the informal economy.

Other celebrations in Los Santos include those dedicated to St. John, St. Peter, St. Paul, the Virgin of Carmen, St. Wilgefortis, St. Roch, St. Christopher, St. James and the Virgin of Las Mercedes.

On June 24th the districts of Aguadulce, in Coclé, and Chitré, in Herrera, celebrate their patron saint St. John the Baptist with drumming groups, horseback rides, and parades of ox-drawn carts. Visitors are offered the local fare of traditional colored buns, roast pork, and beverages made out of cornmeal or fermented corn.

Six days later, on June 29th, the villages of La Arena, also in Herrera, and La Colorada de Santiago, in Veraguas, celebrate St. Paul and St. Peter, respectively.

At La Colorada, the cry of "Peter has arrived" at daybreak on June 29th marks the beginning of the patron saint festival. In La Arena, the torito guapo, or brave bull dance, is very colorful and enjoyable.

Visitors come not only to witness the traditions, but also in search of interesting handicrafts.

Dirty devil masks, hammocks, and charming clay ornaments are among the most sought-after souvenirs.

The festivities trigger a wave of visitors into the country, bringing hotel occupancy levels up from 35% to 100% and reactivating the village economy, recognizes Ernesto Orillac, Deputy Administrator of the Panama Tourism Authority (ATP).

Festivals such as Santa Librada, in Las Tablas, Los Santos Province, which began this past weekend, injected more than $35 million into the economy of the Azuero Peninsula, says Orillac.

Religious tourism, beach trips, sport fishing, and dining are reactivated along with the holidays.

The townspeople's partying doesn't stop after Corpus Christi, as every weekend the festive beating of drums can be heard in some corner of the countryside.


The city of Las Tablas, in the province of Los Santos, is prepped to begin partying tomorrow and continue until July 23rd in celebration of their patron saint St. Wilgefortis.

Alongside the patron saint festival, the traditional National Pollera Festival will be held. Festival queen Susana Matilde Arias Mora will take to the streets of her village accompanying the image of the patron saint. Singing and the beating of drums will signal the entry of women dressed in polleras, who greet and welcome visitors. The event will also pay tribute to the folklorist Edgardo De Leon Madariaga, who recently passed away.

The National Pollera Contest will take place on July 22nd. More than 70 women wearing the traditional outfit of a pollera dress, gold jewelry, and ornate hair pieces will compete to win the Margarita Lozano medal, the highest honor of the festival, explained the folklorist Ariosto Velásquez. It can cost over $50,000 to costume a pollera participant.