When I was a boy, one of the rules at home that I did not like at all was to be made to lie on the bare floor of our sala after lunch. I usually lay side by side with two other children in the family. We were forced to sleep by my mother. She watched us as we darned old dresses, read an awit, or hammed a cradle song in Tagalog.
She always reminded us that sleeping at noon enables children to grow fast like the grass in our yard. In this way, in most Filipino homes many years ago, children made to understand what the siesta was. Very often I had to pretend to be asleep by closing my eyes.
Once while my mother was away, I tries to sneak out of the house during the siesta hour. I had not gone far when I felt something hit me hard on the back. Looking behind, I saw my father. He was annoyed because I had disturbed his siesta. I picked up a pillow at my feet, gave it to him, and went back to our mat. The two other children were fast asleep. The sight of the whip, symbol of parental authority, hanging on the posts, gave me no other choice but to lie down.
During my childhood, whenever we had house guests, my mother never failed to put mats and pillows on the floor of our living room after the noonday meal. Then she would invite our guests to have their siesta. Hospitality and good taste demanded that this be not overlooked.
The custom of having a siesta was introduces in our country by the Spaniards. Indee, during the Spanish times, the Philippines was the land of the fiesta the novena, and the siesta.
Many foreigners have noted this custom among our people. Some believe that even the guards at the gates of Intramuros had their siesta. It was a commonly known fact that every afternoon the gates of the city were closed for fear of a surprise attack.
The ayuntamiento of Manila or the commander of the regiment in Intramuros did well in ordering the closing of the gates during the siesta hour. Once, the Chinese living in Parian, just a short way from the Walled City, timed the beginning of one of their revolts by attacking at two o’clock in the afternoon. They were sure that the dons, including the guards and sentinels, were having their siesta. They felt that they would be more successful if the attack came at siesta time.
Even today visits to Filipino homes are not usually made between one o’clock and two o’clock in the afternoon. It is presumed that the people in the house are having their siesta. It is not polite to have them awakened from their noonday nap to accommodate visitors. There is well-known saying believed by many of our people: “You may joke with a drunkard but not one who has been disturbed during his siesta.”
Our custom of having our siesta has not been greatly affected by American influence. We have not learned the Yankee’s bustle and eagerness of endurance for continuous work throughout the day.
But if only for its health –giving effects, we should be grateful to the Spaniards for the siesta, especially during the hot weather, for the siesta serves to restore the energy lost while working under a hot climate.