Having more than 7,000 islands gives the Philippines the same number of reasons to hold festivals every year. These are the times when Filipinos wear their Sunday best, cook their families’ secret recipes, and adorn their houses and streets with psychedelic décor.
Filipinos hold festivals for different reasons, including age-old traditions, religious icons, and in celebration of a bountiful harvest. While these reasons make the festivals distinct from one another, they do have a common denominator—festivals allow Filipinos to drop their worries for a while and celebrate their diverse and colorful culture.
For those who are into immersing themselves in different cultures or just simply looking for perfect subjects to shoot, print, and hang on their walls, the loud and vibrant colors of Philippine festivals would fit that bill perfectly.
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Here are 10 of the cheeriest and brightest festivals across the Philippines that day-trippers should sink their teeth into
Known for its catchy chant “Hala bira!” which means “to pour generously,” the Ati-atihan Festival aims to honor the Santo Niño. The festival depicts the historic meeting of the natives and the Spaniards who introduced Christianity to the island.
Ati-atihan is held on the third week of January in the town of Kalibo, province of Aklan. Both the townsfolk and guests paint their faces and body with charcoal or black soot, while wearing bright native costumes. They then parade on the streets while thumping hard on their drums and dancing to rehearsed routines.
Another festival dedicated to the Santo Niño, Dinagyang (“merry making” in English) is celebrated to revere the said image of the Child Jesus, as well as to commemorate the Malay settlers’ acquisition of Panay island from the Ati tribe. Iloilo City, where the Dinagyang Festival is celebrated, is located in the same region where Ati-atihan is celebrated.
Dinagyang is observed on the fourth Sunday of January, usually after the Ati-atihan festival, and is divided into three much-awaited events that tourists will enjoy—Miss Dinagyang, Ati-Ati Street Dancing, and Kasadyahan Street Dancing. Dancers would also paint their bodies with black soot and dress in colorful costumes.
The word “higante” is the Tagalog equivalent for “giant,” but tourists need not worry for there would be no actual appearance of the said mythical creatures. Instead, 10 to 12-foot paper-maches are constructed and paraded around the province of Angono, Rizal during the last week of November. Higantes Festival commemorates the giant paper maches Filipinos used as a form of protest against their previous Spanish landlords, as well as in honor of the patron saint of Fishermen, Saint Clemence.
Dwellers of Davao City do not forget to rejoice and celebrate their plentiful harvest as a way of thanksgiving. According to Philippine history, Davao natives converge around Mt. Apo to thank Bathala, the Supreme Being, for a bountiful harvest that year.
Considered a red letter event during the third week of August, the whole of Davao celebrates Kadayawan through street dancing coupled with beautiful flower floats. The people decorate their sidewalk by displaying fresh fruits and vegetables. The feast’s name was derived from the word “madayaw,” which is used to describe something profitable, superior, and of great value.
“Maskara” is the Filipino translation of the word “mask.” But for the natives of Bacolod, this word is tantamount to a festivity. Masskara Festival originated from the combination of English word “mass” pertaining to a crowd, and the Spanish word “cara” which means face. This amalgamation is also a play of words that signifies many faces. Celebrated on the month of October, the people of Bacolod dedicate an entire week to literally mask their sufferings and value life instead in the form of merry making and feasting.
The Moriones Festival coincides with the observance of the Holy Week. The term “morion” refers to the visor of a Roman soldier’s headgear which was a part of their uniform. It is a form of parody to the Roman soldiers during the time of Christ’s death.
To memorialize this symbol, the citizens of Marinduque wear masks and costumes that look like Roman soldiers while parading in the towns. Those who engage in this activity consider it their form of penitence. During the Holy Week, they play pranks on people, march, dance, or conduct mock swordfights on the streets.
Considered as one of the most colorful events in the Philippines, a tourist visiting Quezon province during the Pahiyas Festival would be greeted with streets lined by houses beautifully decorated with the town’s primary commodities, such as fruits, vegetables, and handicrafts. The word Pahiyas, meaning “precious offering,” is another harvest festival, this time, in honor of St. Isidore the Farmer. It is held every 15th of May.
A festival that lasts the entire month of February, Panagbenga is how the people of Baguio City exhibit their abundant reaping of flowers. Literally translates to “a season of blooming,” this event involves a parade of floats dolled up with flowers of different colors and sizes, which are then marched in a procession in the city.
Held in the province of Leyte in the month of June, the Pintados Festival is an addition to the ways Filipinos venerate the Santo Niño. People join this gala by painting themselves from head to foot as way of remembering the culture of their ancestors who used to tattoo themselves heavily with tribal symbols. With their painted bodies, they would dance on the streets in broad daylight.
The third Sunday of January is a big deal for the residents of Cebu province for it is when they get to celebrate the Sinulog Festival. “Sinulog” is a word used to describe the movement of water, and tourists would notice that the dance movements during the event reflect the flow of water. This festival is known for long parades, with participants dressed in various vibrant costumes, which are all done to show respect to the Santo Niño (considered as the patron saint of the Cebuanos).
Festivals: More Fun in the Philippines
Almost every country has its own signature festival but when it comes to sheer number and vividness, the Philippines takes the cake. The fun part is that Filipinos get to celebrate the most important events in their history, while preserving their rich culture.