Rizal Day, commemorating the date of death of our national hero, was a significant national holiday, held every December 30. First marked in 1898 through a decree issued by Pres. Emilio Aguinaldo in Malolos, Rizal Day started as a day of mourning in memory of the national hero.
The first Rizal Day was celebrated in Manila with a program by Club Filipino, an organization of young Filipinos, many of whom were identified with revolutionary movement. The club held a velada in their headquarters on Calle Alix, now Legarda Street. Musical interludes and readings of Rizal’s poems were also incorporated in the program. The climax of the event was the placing of a crown of laurel on the head of a Rizal bust, performed by Trinidad Ungson.
Rizal Day was declared an official national holiday in 1902, under the Americans. Filipinos, with their love for pomp and pageantry, transformed the affair with a fiesta atmosphere, incorporating parades that featured stately carrozas bearing likenesses of Rizal—mostly busts, replicas of his statues and portraits. Floral floats often carried allegorical muses and other historical characters, with painted slogans and memorable quotes culled from Rizal’s life works. An important part of the celebration was the selection of Rizal Day muses, of which every town seemed to have one.
Pampanga had always had a deep association with the national hero. His visits to his friends in
Angeles was one of the first towns of Pampanga to celebrate Rizal Day. In 1931, the town held a program featuring civic parades with floral motorcades, bearing children in costumes representing different professionals like nurses and doctors. Prizes were given away to the best-dressed participants. Local businesses chipped in to sponsor the event.
The celebration of Rizal Day continued to be observed through the 30s-50s in Philippine towns, becoming simpler and more austere through the years. Today, Rizal Day has become a more formal state ceremony, marked with flag-raising, 21-gun salute and wreath-laying by the country’s chief executive. But for the small Rizalista community still flourishing in the foothills of Mount Arayat, every day is Rizal Day.