Whether it’s to commemorate a historical event or celebrate a religious occasion, Filipinos are known for elaborate fiestas. Each city or town pulls out all the stops when it comes to decor; every family brings their A-game fot the potluck parties. And if we’re being completely honest, there’s no shortage of booze. Ahead are local fiestas you shouldn’t miss out on.
In a deeply religious country like ours, it’s unsurprising that there are a lot of similar festivals—and sometimes, they even overlap. That said, provinces celebrate the Christ child in their own ways, but Ati-Atihan is known as the mother of all the more popular Santo Nino festivals. It usually happens around the third week of January in Kalibo, Aklan. It’s also allegedly the only fiesta that legally and culturally allows drinking in public! Ati-Atihan is unique for its street dancing or “sadsad” that usually happens when the drumming starts. For the parade, participants paint their faces black as a way of honoring the island’s first settlers. Locals are also seen carrying images and statues of baby Jesus as they celebrate in the streets.
Like Ati-Atihan, Sinulog is a celebration of the Sto. Nino. “Sinulog” comes from the Cebuano word “sulog,” which means “water current” or “movement in the water.” It’s the perfect way to describe the popular forward-backward movement of the local dance. Also during the third week of January, it’s one of the biggest raves in the country. In fact, three years ago, Sinulog had four million participants! The grand street parade lasts nine to 12 hours—can you believe it?! The day before the parade, there is a fluvial procession and a re-enactment of the acceptance of Catholicism. And if you’re ever in Cebu for Sinulog, get ready to hear, “Pit Señor,” over and over again. It’s the Cebuano phrase for praying to the Sto. Nino.
Yet another feast for the Sto. Nino, the Dinagyang festival in Iloilo happens right after Ati-Atihan and Sinulog. Dinagyang is also a celebration of the arrival of Malay settlers in Panay. Like Sinulog, locals transform the area into one big street party. You won’t be able to turn into a corner without coming across a live band with towering boom boxes. Groups from different barangays participate in an extremely competitive street dance contest! But the main competition is of an Ati Tribe doing warrior dances.
“Panagbenga” aka the “season of blooming” is a month-long festival that serves as a tribute to Baguio City’s flowers. Local children dress up as stunning flora and fauna of every kind, and there are countless parades of floral floats! For the natives in Baguio, Panagbenga is a way for the younger generation to learn about their indigenous traditions and in a way, keep the culture alive and thriving.
Perhaps the biggest festival during Holy Week, Moriones is all about recounting the stories of Roman soldiers. It happens in the island of Marinduque, and locals dress up in Roman costumes and masks. Each town does their own version of the recitation of the Passion of the Christ. There’s a different scene or part of the story that’s depicted each day so tourists have so much to look forward to.
Pahiyas is apparently the most colourful harvest festival in the country! Held in Lucban, Quezon, the fiesta happens on May 15; it’s in thanksgiving to San Isidro, who is the patron saint of farmers. The locals of Lucban decorate their houses with multi-colored fruits and vegetables—and they’re very competitive about it. Common vegetable décor include singkamas, talong, and sigrarilyas. The people are pretty open about sharing, and if you’re lucky, you can bring a basket around and pick the veggies and fruits off the walls! Apart from local produce, handicrafts and kiping (a rice-based decoration) are also abundant during the festival.
Kadayawan is the most anticipated festival in Davao! During the third week of August, people celebrate Kadayawan to give thanks for nature, culture, harvest, and life in general. It used to be called “Apo Duwaling” to honor Mt. Apo, durian, and waling-waling, but President Duterte renamed it “Kadayawan sa Dabaw” in 1988 to revel in Davao’s flowers, fruits, and overall cultural wealth. This is usually when locals and foreigners shop for farm products, which are made to be affordable for everyone.
As you can probably derive from the festival’s name, it’s all about masks! Participants wear smiling masks to represent Bacolod as the “City of Smiles.” Students flock to Bacolod during the third weekend of October because like Sinulog, MassKara is known for its party scene. In the past, the masks were influenced by native Filipino art, but it has since shifted to mask inspirations from Carnival of Venice and the Rio Carnival. Additionally, masks used to be decorated with feathers and native beads, but now, locals opt for plastic beads and sequins.
Main image by Jun Rojas from Silver Light Images