Some highlights among the country’s festivities in PhilippinesIn the middle of the rich mix of folklore, superstition, mythology, and religion in the Philippines – where one is taken for the other, interchangeable, if you may – there is a constant annual calendar of fiestas, or feasts, to celebrate the parthenon of patron saints and the different manifestations of Mother Mary that have made itself part not only of officially sanctioned events by the Catholic Church (days of obligation), but also of the cultural fabric of the country and its different regions. The feasts also make pageants and celebrations of rain dances, thanksgiving for good harvests, and also moments in the country’s history.
Mind you: the Philippines is known as Asia’s biggest Roman Catholic population, but there are also other religions, like Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, the traditional religions of aboriginal and tribal groups, and not to mention other Christian denominations that have their own schedules of celebrations. Over and above these, towns may also have their own festivities aside from the national ones. So this list can only offer a partial glance across the islands.)
The Feast of the Black Nazarene is held every ninth of January in the Quiapo district of Manila. Devotees flock in the thousands just to get a glance – or even touch – the life size statue of the Black Nazarene, which depicts Jesus Christ carrying the cross, as it moves slowly amongst the packed streets on a path from Intramuros (the old walled city capital) towards Quiapo church. Devotees attribute many miracles to the 400 year old image that was brought to the country from Mexico in the 17th century.
The Sinulog festival is celebrated every third week of January in Cebu City, in the country’s Visayas region. The fiesta pays homage to the Santo Ni-o, as the child Jesus is called, whose image is dressed like a decadent little doll. The celebration is comprised of a religious procession held on a Saturday and a grand street parade the following day.
The Ati-Atihan festival, which lasts from the 16th to the 22nd of January, is the original form of the feast that commemorates the Santo Ni-o. Also in the procession parade format, the main difference of the Ati-atihan is that revelers paint themselves black and wear colorful and outlandish costumes to masquerade as Negritos, one of the earliest tribes to inhabit the country. The fiesta is held in Kalibo, Aklan. It is a Christianized version of a pagan festival, which has also been copied by the Dinagyang in Iloilo, and the Masskara in Bacolod, all in the Visayas region.
The Moriones Festival, reenacted during the Holy Week in Boac, Marinduque, is based on a play about the story of Longinus, the centurion whose blindness was cured by a drop of blood from Jesus. The masks that actors – both men and women – wear, represent the Roman soldiers. Morion means mask or visor.
Flores de Mayo, as the name suggests, is held on the month of May. Literally meaning the flowers of May, this nationwide festival commemorates the search of Queen Elena of Constantinople, together with his son, Emperor Constantine, for the actual cross carried by Jesus. Among all the fiestas, this comes nearest to the format of a beauty pageant, as the parade consists of maidens escorted by young men under floral arches. In many areas, it is also considered a ritual for the coming of age of young ladies.
The Pahiyas (hiyas meaning decoration) is celebrated every 15th of May in Lucban, in the Quezon province. Agricultural households give thanks to San Isidro Labrador (Saint Isidore the Laborer) for a bountiful harvest by decorating their houses with brightly colored rice wafers called kiping, along with fruits, vegetables, other produce, and also handicrafts. Each year, there are judges who decide which house looks the best and awards the family a prize. The kiping can be eaten grilled or fried after the judging.
By the third week of August, the people of Davao City, in the southern region of the Philippines, celebrate the Kadayawan. This festival gives thanks to the harvest of fruits and flowers as the waling – waling orchid blooms. Floats of all colors are bedecked with orchids and other flowers in the city’s grand parade. The Kadayawan draws its name from the friendly greeting “Madayaw”, derived from the Davao word “dayaw”, meaning good, valuable, superior or beautiful.
The Masskara Festival is held every third week of October in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental, where people from all walks of life don their colorful masks as they participate in street dances. The festivities mark Bacolod City’s charter day.