The Philippines is the only nation in the world that has festivals every month of the year. It has also the longest christmas season, from September 1 to the first week of January.
Do you know that the Philippines is the only nation in the world that has festivals every month of the year? It is also a nation that has the longest Christmas season in the world, almost 4.5 months starting from September 1 to the first week of January.
In January, there are four festivals known worldwide. First, there is the Fiesta of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, Manila held on January 9th. Thousands of devotees flock around the life-size statue of the Black Nazarene (Jesus Christ) during a procession around the church and in the Quiapo area (Manila). Devotees are hoping for a miracle or cure of their illnesses.
Second, there is the Sinulog Festival, celebrated every 3rd week of January in Cebu City, in honor of their patron saint, Santo Nino (Child Christ). It is a weeklong event marked with religious procession, street dancing and parades.
The third fiesta is Ati-Atihan of Kalibo, Aklan at around the same time as the Sinulog Festival. This is also in honor of the Santo Nino. Revelers masquerading as Negritoes (the aborigines of Panay Island) in colorful costumes dance to the beat of the drums while chanting “ Hala Bira”.
The fourth festival during the 4th Sunday of January is the Dinagyang Festival in Iloilo City. This is one of my favorite festivals. It is held both in honor also of the Santo Nino as well as to celebrate the arrival in Panay of the Malay settlers and subsequent selling of the island to them by the aborigines, called the Atis. The Atis are also called Negritoes. They are short and black and lived in the interior part of Panay. I saw the first Atis in my life when I was growing up in my home town in Barotac Viejo, Iloilo in the late 1940s. Dinagyang was voted the best tourism event in the Philippines in 2006, 2007 and 2008.
In February, there are two fiestas in the Western Visayas and one in Baguio City. First,is the Feast of the Lady of Candles (Candelaria) held every February 2nd in Jaro, Iloilo. This is the festival that I grew up with since I was born in Jaro, Iloilo. According to fiesta enthusiasts, this is most opulent religious fiesta in the Western Visayas region. The blessing of the candles and procession of the Nuestra Senora de Candelaria, the patron saint of Jaro, is followed by the Fiesta Queen and the Grand Ball. The image of the Lady of Candles has also miraculous powers according to hundreds of devotees.
The other Fiesta in February is the Babaylan Festival in Bago City, Negros Occidental held every February 19. The festival attendants will see the simulated rituals of the mystics, ancient healers and priests in various ceremonies such as marriage, healing and harvest.
The Baguio City Flower Festival also called Panagbenga is held on the last week of Febraury. Panagbenga means “a season of blooming”. The festival has a floral parade, marching bands and street dancing.
In March, there are two Fiestas, that I have heard of. One is the Eid El Fitir, a Filipino-Muslim festival in Mindanao which marked the end of their 30-day fasting as the crescent moon emerges after the Holy Month of Ramadan. This is the only fiesta that is not based on the catholic religion.
The world famous fiesta is the Moriones Festival of Marinduque. This coincides with Easter week celebration every year from late March to early April. This is the Festival that I have attended almost every year for the last eight years. It is a whole week of celebration marked with religious processions, Moriones Mask Contest and Parades, Fairs and Trade shows, and an outdoor religious play based on the story of Longinus, the Roman centurion whose blind eye is cured by a drop of Jesus Christ blood during his Crucifixion. This festival is culminated by Gasan-Gasan, a street dancing celebration in Gasan (reminds me of New Orleans, Mardi Gras) and an Easter Parade on Easter Sunday in Boac. Mogpog is another town in Marinduque that celebrates the Moriones Festival for one week of festivities similar to Boac and Gasan. During Holy week, the sleepy province of Marinduque becomes a province filled with tourists from Manila and around the world, complete with traffic congestion and religious mayhem. The religious revelry and the colorful masks and costumes of the Moriones (Roman soldiers) rewards the visitor with a unique experience during the Holy week in the Philippines.
During the month of April, besides the Moriones Festival there is the pilgrimage in Manaoag, Pangasinan. It is held every second week of April. Pilgrims and devotees flock to the shrine of Our Lady of Manaoag for the feast of the sick, the needy and the helpless. Her image is believed to be also miraculous.
In May, the whole nation celebrates the Flores de Mayo (Flowers of May). Every day for the whole month, children and devotees offer flowers to the Statue of Virgin Mary were they also pray the rosary. The whole month of celebration is culminated by a procession and Grand Ball at the end of the month. The fiesta commemorates the search for the Holy Cross by Reyna Elena and her son, the Emperor Constantine. In Marinduque, a Grand Ball at the town plaza is held at the end of the month. During this Ball, the Rigodon De Honor, a dance that originated from Spain (a royal square dance) opens the evening festivities. Participants of the Rigodon are chosen because of their standing in the community, that is participation is by invitation only. The women participants wore their most expensive ternos (evening gowns) and the men their embroidered Barong Tagalog. In 2003, Macrine and I were invited to participate in this Dance of Honor and Prestige.
There are other festivals during the month of May. There is the Pulilan, Bulacan Carabao Festival held every 14th of May. There is the Pahiyas festival on May 15. Farm families give thanks to San Isidro Labrador for the good harvest by decorating their houses with brightly colored rice wafers called kiping. Then there’s the Obando fertility rites festival during the 3rd week of May. Hundreds of men and women dance toward the town church praying for a wife, husband or a child.
In June, there are two fiestas that I have heard of. The Parada ng Lechon (The Parade of the Roasted Pig) in Balayan, Batangas on June 24th. This fiesta also coincides with the Feast of St John the Baptist.
The other well-attended fiesta is the Pintados-Kasadyaan Festival held on June 29 in Tacloban, Leyte. The town folks parade through the town with colorful body paints to recall their ancient warrior tradition where tattoos represented bravery and prestige. This feast coincides with Feast of St Peter and Paul celebrated in my parents’ hometown, Barotac Viejo, Iloilo.
In July, there are two festivals that are getting popular nationwide. The Bocaue River Festival is held every first Sunday of July in Bocaue, Bulacan. The highlight of the fiesta is a fluvial procession in honor of the miraculous Cross of Bocaue. Devotees douse each other with water as they scramble to ride the pagoda boat.
The second festival is the Sandugo (means one blood) held in Tagbilaran, Bohol in the 3rd week of July. The festival celebrates the blood compact between Datu Sikatuna and Miquel Lopez de Legaspi. There is street dancing, shows, trade fairs and beauty contests.
In August, I have heard of only one festival. It is held in Davao City every 3rd week of August. They named the festival “Kadayawan Sa Dabaw”. The festival gives thanks to the bounty of fruits and flowers, such as the waling-waling orchid blooms. Colorful floats are decorated with beautiful orchids and other flowers in the grand parade. This reminds me of the Pasadena Rose Parade on New Years Day here in California.
In September there is the feast of Our Lady of Penafrancia held every 3rd Saturday of September in Naga City, Camarines Sur. I have attended this festival during my college days at the University of the Philippines in the early 1950s. My dorm mate was from Naga City and he invited me to stay with his family for a couple of days to observe the festivities. There was a fluvial parade where the image of the Lady of Penafrancia was carried through the river aglow with floating candles.
In October, there is the Maskara Festival held every 3rd week of October in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental. Mask making is the main activity during this festival. It commemorates Bacolod City Charter Day. There are brass bands, parades, beauty contest and street dancing where the local folks show off their beautiful masks.
In November, there is the Higantes (Giant) Festival held in Angono, Rizal around the 3rd week of the month. This is in honor of St Clements, the town’s patron saint. Its image is carried in a procession that features pahadores, clad in colorful garb and wooden shoes. They carry boat paddles and Higantes (10 ft tall) made of papier-mâché puppets.
Lastly, in December there are two festivals worthy of mention. One is the Giant Lantern Festival in San Fernando, Pampanga. It is celebrated the whole month, but culminates in a judging contest for the best, biggest and most beautiful Christmas lantern made by local craftsmen.
The second festival is the Binirayan Festival in San Jose, Antique held at the last week of December. Ethnic pageantry reaches a new high in the beaches of Maybato, San Jose, where the drama of the first Malay settlement is played out.
There are other little festivals in the whole country. Each town in the Christian Roman Catholic Philippines has a patron saint. So, every town has a fiesta and when it is fiesta time Filipinos celebrate, and forget the worries and problems of daily living at least just for one day.
I love fiestas and if you have not attended one, you are missing a part of what the Philippines is all about. In addition, the Philippines is the nation that celebrates the longest Christmas season in the world, starting from September 1 and culminating on the first week of January to coincide with the Feast of the Three Kings, also known as Little Christmas.