Saturday, February 4, 2012

Pista! Fantastic Festivals in the Philippines

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Don't be surprised if the Philippines, with its rich heritage and more than 7,000 islands in its archipelago, has a lot of festivals or pista. There are many reasons for Filipinos to celebrate: To give thanks, seek  favors, ask for forgiveness, remember history, pay tribute to a local produce or honor a saint. Here are just some of the remarkable local festivals and events in the country:

Viva Santo Nino!  The Sinulog Festival of Cebu.
(Photo from

Feast of the Black Nazarene (January 9) - The Philippines is one of the few countries in the world with a large number of Catholics. In the country's capital, Manila, a mammoth crowd of devotees flock to Quiapo Church to pray to the miraculous image of  a dark-colored Jesus Christ bearing a cross. Called the Black Nazarene, the life-sized wooden icon is displayed to the public on the first week of January and culminates with a large procession around key areas in Manila on January 9. Processions and masses in honor of the Black Nazarene are also held in other parts of the Philippines but nothing beats the crowd at Quiapo as the procession takes almost the whole day, with people (mostly men) walking barefoot to imitate Jesus Christ who walked to Calvary with  no sandals on his feet. The remarkable devotion and the unbelievable number of attendees each year make it one festival worth witnessing. 

Feast of the Santo Nino (Third week of January)-  The Santo Nino refers to the Holy Child or  image of the Child Jesus. The celebration, which is at least a week-long,  serves as a reminder for Catholics to have faith like that of little children. It usually begins with masses and novena in honor of the Holy Child and concludes with  a grand parade, street-dancing and merry-making on the third Sunday of January. 

In Kalibo, Aklan, the Feast of Santo Nino is part of the Ati-Atihan Festival which commemorates the conversion of the natives of Panay to the Catholic faith as well as  the peace pact between the Aetas and the  Malays before the Philippines was colonized.  In Cebu, it's part of the  Sinulog Festival as Sinulog refers to the dance ritual in honor of the Sto. Nino.  In Iloilo City, the feast of the Holy Child is celebrated on the fourth Sunday of January and is called Dinagyang Festival. 

Fluvial Parade at Burnham Park for Baguio's Panagbenga Festival
(Photo from Panagbenga Festival's Facebook page) 
Panagbenga Festival  (month-long) - The month-long flower festival is held in the country's summer capital, Baguio City. Panagbenga means a season of blooming and is a tribute to the beautiful flowers as well as the rich culture and resilience of the people of the Cordillera region.  A street parade of colorful floats decorated with blossoms, dancing on the streets, a fluvial parade, and cultural performances are just some of the festival's highlights.

Pamulinawen Festival (February 1 to 10) -  The people of Laoag City, Ilocos Norte celebrate the feast of its Patron Saint, William the Hermit, through songs, parades, dances and banquets that also showcase the   history and tradition of the people of Ilocos (Ilocanos). The festivities could last a whole month, depending on the organizers.

Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta (Second week of February) -  This is a 3 to 4 day hot air balloon festival that also features a variety of aviation sports such as skydiving, paragliding, etc. It's held every year at Clark Freeport Zone in Pampanga and draws a lot of local and international visitors. It was first held to inspire the communities affected by the 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption and boost the local economy.

Tinapay Festival (Second week of February) - This annual celebration pays homage to the panaderos or bakers of Cuenca, Batangas. The highlight, of course, is the mouth-watering parade of  local bread of different shapes and sizes.

Race to the finish: The Bangkero Festival of Pagsanjan
(Photo from the 13th Bangkero Festival Facebook page)
Kaamulan Festival (last week of February to first week of March) -  This festival is held every year at Malaybalay, Bukidnon and pays tribute to the way of life of the 7 indigenous groups of Bukidnon. It's an amazing introduction to their traditions and practices. It culminates with a grand celebration of the founding anniversary of the province (March 10).

Bangkero Festival  (first week of March) - Held annually in Pagsanjan, Laguna, this festival is in honor of Pagsanjan's patroness, Our Lady of Guadalupe. It is also a tribute to the hardworking and multi-tasking boatmen of Pagsanjan. The festival boasts of exciting activities on land and on water such as street dancing, chorale singing, fluvial parade and boat race.

Masked men: Moriones Festival
(Image from Moriones Festival of Marinduque Philippines)
Magayon Festival  (month-long) - The festival named after the legendary maiden Magayon showcases the beauty, culture, arts, history and  people of the province of Albay. The celebration is also a good opportunity to explore the province's spicy local cuisine as well as its natural attractions which includes the famous Mayon Volcano.

Guimaras Manggahan Festival (2nd-3rd week of April) -  Guimaras, Iloilo is the home of the sweetest ripe mangoes so it's not surprising that it has a festival in honor of its top produce.  Taste the best mangoes of the Philippines, join the fun street-dancing, see the colorful parade and enjoy other activities in this week-long celebration.

Semana Santa (Holy Week) - This is a religious festival observed by Catholics all over the Philippines. Solemn processions and masses are held to commemorate the life, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Most Catholic families participate in a Visita Iglesia on Maundy Thursday, where they visit 7 or 14 churches and meditate on the Way of the Cross. On Good Friday and Black Saturday, the mood is generally somber as the crucifixion and death of Christ is remembered. The festival becomes more joyful by Easter Sunday as Filipinos celebrate Jesus' Resurrection.

Maleldo (Good Friday) - San Pedro, Cutud, Pampanga, is the venue of the one-of-a-kind commemoration of the passion and death of Jesus Christ. Also known as the Cutud Lenten Rites, devotees engage in self-flagellation as they re-enact Jesus' walk to Calvary. It culminates with the re-enactment of the crucifixion of Christ.

Moriones Festival (Holy Week) - The people of the island of Marinduque commemorate the passion and death of Christ by re-enacting the story of Longinus, the Roman centurion who converted to Christianity after experiencing a miracle during Jesus' crucifixion.. Men and women wear large masks and Roman-inspired costumes during the festival then roam the streets, engaging in crazy antics as they search for Longinus.

Just one of the creative things you'll see at Lucban's Pahiyas Festival.

Flores de Mayo Festival (month-long) - Most towns and cities in the Philippines celebrate this festival in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Devotees pray the rosary in honor of Mary and offer her flowers in their church.  The celebration culminates with the Santacruzan or a colorful procession (featuring the town's beautiful maidens) in honor of Queen Helena and Constantine the Great's search for the Holy Cross. A grand feast and games for the children are also done on the last day of the festival.

Carabao Festival (May 14-15) - Carabaos or water buffaloes take center stage in this festival that honor the farmer's animal of choice. The celebration usually starts on the 14th of May with a Carabao Parade while a thanksgiving feast and other activities in honor of Saint Isidore are held on the 15th. Pulilan, Bulacan and Angono, Rizal are the best places to witness this festival.

Pahiyas Festival  (May 15) -  Lucban, Quezon turns into a rainbow of colors as each household is decorated with local produce, palm hats, and kiping (colorful, leaf-shaped wafer) to give thanks to Saint Isidore, the patron of farmers and peasants.  Aside from the creative and colorful houses, visitors to Lucban also get an opportunity to enjoy local food, watch cultural performances, and observe the people's customs. The nearby municipalities of Sariaya, Gumaca, and Tayabas, Quezon also pay homage to Saint Isidore or San Isidro on the same day.

Pista ng Obando (May 17-19)- Popularly known as Obando Fertility Rites, this unusual festival is celebrated at Obando, Bulacan and honors St. Clare of Assisi, St. Paschal and Our Lady of Salambao.  Festival-goers join the grand procession or watch devotees sing and dance on the streets as they ask for a saint's intercession to help them find a partner (husband or wife), enjoy good fortune or bear a child.


These little piggies went hula dancing: Parada ng Lechon
(Image from
Feast of St. John the Baptist (June 24) - Prepare to get wet in this festival where you'd literally get splashed or sprayed with water. Locally known as Pista ng San Juan, residents from cities or towns honoring St. John appear to be in a water fight where even those passing by are not spared from being doused. Towns and cities named after San Juan  (especially in Metro Manila) celebrate this feast with much fervor.

Parada ng Lechon (June 24) -  The star of this festival  is the succulent roasted pig (lechon) that is considered a delicacy in Balayan, Batangas. At the start of the day,  whole roasted pigs dressed in colorful and sometimes crazy costumes are first blessed in church before they are paraded on the streets of Balayan. Expect a merry feast after the parade and prepare to get wet, too, as this celebration is also in honor of St. John the Baptist.    (Note: La Loma, Quezon City also holds a Roasted Pig Parade during its Lechon Festival every third Sunday of May.)

Pintados/Kasadyaan Festival (June 29) - This is a joint celebration of the Pintados Festival and Kasadyaan Festival of Festivals that's held in Tacloban, Leyte. It showcases the ancient art of body painting that was practiced by the early inhabitants (Pintados) of Visayas. It also pays homage to the patron of Tacloban, the Senor Sto. Nino or the Holy Child.


Sandugo Festival (July 22) - Held each year at Tagbilaran, Bohol, this festival commemorates the agreement between Datu Sikatuna, one of early leaders of Bohol, and Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, a Spanish conquistador. Aside from a reenactment of the historical blood compact, various activities such as street dancing, sports events, and fireworks display are also organized for everyone's entertainment.


Kadayawan Festival (Third week of August) - Kadayawan, which the people of Davao City consider as The King of Festivals,  is a celebration held every hear as thanksgiving for life's blessings. Different indigenous groups join the festivities to acknowledge the bountiful harvest and showcase their traditions. The festival also showcases the natural wealth of Davao City such as its mountain, river, flowers, and fruits. Parades, street dancing, water sports, and cultural presentations are just some of the many activities scheduled during the Kadayawan Festival.

Tsinelas Festival (August 25) - Gapan, Nueva Ecija claims to be the Slippers Capital of the North. Thus,    the Tsinelas (slippers) Festival is held each year to show off this product. See extremely large footwear displayed on the streets of Gapan as well as a parade of floats designed with slippers in this annual event.


Siargao Surfing Festival (month-long) - This festival, which usually begins on the third week of September and lasts up to October, is composed of various local and international surfing events at one of the best places

Feast of Our Lady of Penafrancia (September 17) - Also known as the Penafrancia Festival, it's held in Naga City, Camarines Sur and is popular for its Grand Fluvial Procession in honor of Our Lady of Penafrancia. Other festival events include concerts, parades, dance competitions, sports events, and Naga's annual fiesta, usually celebrated the day after.

Some of the colorful masks worn during the MassKara Festival.
Zamboanga Hermosa Festival (October 1 to 12) -  Zamboanga Hermosa means "Beautiful Zamboanga" and this festival celebrates everything that's beautiful about Asia's Latin City.    The festival's main attraction is the Regatta de Zamboanga, which features a race among colorful vintas or local sailboats.

MassKara Festival (Third week of October, nearest to October 19) -  Celebrated each year at  Bacolod City, Negros Occidental, the MassKara Festival is considered as the Mardi Gras of the Philippines as the streets are filled with people wearing colorful masks with smiling faces. Lots of partying and dancing happen on and off the streets during this much-anticipated festival.
We're not snobs! The Higantes Festival of Angono.

Higantes Festival (November 22 and 23) - Angono, Rizal pays homage to Pope Clement I or Saint Clement through a grand parade of giants called Higantes. This religious festival also features a fluvial procession, street-dancing, and a fair showcasing local produce and crafts. Read more about the Higantes Festival here.

Christmas lights at Roxas Boulevard, Manila.
Christmas (month-long) - Actually, Christmas in the Philippines is celebrated as early as September as homes start putting up colorful parols (lanterns) and decors months before the holidays. However, various cities and municipalities lead festivals in celebration of Christmas by first week of December. These include Pasko sa Sugbu in Cebu City;  Kasadya-an Festival in Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental; Christmas in Baguio in Baguio City; and  Kamundagan Festival  in Naga City, Camarines Sur.  Aside from the traditional lighting of the Christmas tree, each festival presents local traditions observed during the holidays.

Giant Lantern Parade (Second weekend of December) - This annual festival at San Fernando, Pampanga features mammoth-size lanterns that give the illusion of dancing lights. The lanterns represent  the  barangays of San Fernando and highlight the creativity and cooperation among its residents.

Take note that festival dates may change. For example, the MassKara, which is usually just a week-long festival, was celebrated as early as the first week of October last 2011.  So make sure to check this blog or my Facebook page regularly for updates. For schedule of Philippine holidays, see this post.

Think there are major festivals in the Philippines that should be included in this list? Feel free to share it here! 


  1. The good side is that the Philippines offer a venue to the visitors to experience enjoyable experience? I believe that, yes, you can have fun in the Philippines, provided that certain criteria are met. Moments, savor the natural beauty of its landscape, and have fun. This is the only island that I know of that is comprised of 1,707 small islands, most of which are uninhabitable. The Philippines, as a tropical country, offers an awesome and inspiring panoramic view of several thousands of small islands that seem interconnected so beautifully. If you love water sports and island-hopping, then the Philippines is a real island paradise, second to none, allowing you a sublime experience? I believe that, yes, you can have fun in the Philippines, provided that certain criteria are met.

    1. Thanks for those beautiful words about the Philippines! I know the country has a lot to offer to its visitors and then of course, there are some things about the country that others may not really appreciate. One thing's definite: People here know how to have fun! And that's one good reason to come over.


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