It’s a known fact that Filipinos take their festivals and parties seriously. No matter the economic situation, the show, or in this case, the party must go on. Each town usually has its own annual celebrations dedicated to its patron saint. It is not an exaggeration then when it is said that in some town there can be a fiesta on any given day. Therefore, there is no need to time your visit carefully if you wish to witness the revelry and join in the celebration. There is sure to be one during your visit.
Due to the Spanish influence on the Catholic spirituality of the Filipinos, most of these fiestas are religious in origin. Others commemorate certain important events in the country’s history. Whatever the original meaning of the holiday, these days are usually marked by people dressed in elaborate costumes, food and drink galore, river parades, processions, contests and much more. Here we highlight some of the most popular Filipino festivals. Most of them have become a tourist attraction that draws visitors from all over the world.
Panagbenga, Baguio Flower Festival
The mainland part of Luzon is no slouch when it comes to festivals. Every year during the month of February, thousands of tourists, both domestic and foreign, come up to the summer capital of the Philippines to see the city bloom, literally. The Panagbenga Festival commemorates the rise of the city after the tragic earthquake disaster of 1990. During the festival, Burnham Park and Session Street are flooded with flamboyant floats decorated entirely with flowers, it is a truly impressive sight.
Ati-Atihan – Kalibo
Dubbed as the mother of all festivals in the Philippines, Kalibo’s Ati-Atihan is the oldest in the country. It is a two-week festival that culminates on the third Sunday of January.
As early as December, drums are heard from participants practicing for the event. During the celebration, people dressed in costumes of indigenous materials gather in the street and dance to the rhythm of the drums. Their skin is blackened to represent the early settlers known as “ati”. Chants of “‘Viva! Holy Child!” and “Hala Bira! Pwera Pasma!” are heard along with the rhythmic cadence of tribal music. The first phrase is a tribute to the baby Jesus and the second a plea not to get sick under the sweltering heat of the sun.
In recent decades, different cities have created their own version, but the Ati-Atihan is unique for one fundamental reason: it is highly interactive. Locals are not mere spectators, but paint their skin black with soot and join the groups in street dances. Don’t be discouraged if you get doused with the odd splash of beer, it is after all the local equivalent of Mardi Gras.
Ati-Atihan Sinulog – Cebu City
On the same day, Cebu City also pays homage to the Santo Niño with its Ati-Atihan Sinulog. What distinguishes it is the way of dancing to the rhythm of the drums: two steps forward and one backward, a movement intended to simulate the flow of water (sulog) of the Pahina River. In addition to the religious parade and street festivities, you can also enjoy trade fairs, musical events and art exhibitions.
Dinagyang – Iloilo City
Exactly one week later, on the fourth Sunday of January, Iloilo City also celebrates the same cultural and religious festival in honor of the Baby Jesus. The Dinagyang consists of a river procession, colorful parades and a contest for the most intricate costume and most impressive choreography. There will be several stages throughout the city and tickets must be purchased to get a better view of the dramatic spectacle.
Masskara – Bacolod
Another of Visayas’ best-known festivals is Bacolod’s Masskara, a 20-day street party packed with food, drinks, dancing and plenty of wild contests like chasing a pig and chugging coconut milk. Held on the weekend closest to October 19, it was conceived to show the resilience of the locals despite their hard life. Hence, participants wear papier-mâché or clay masks depicting a huge smile.
Kadayawan Festival – Davao City
Mindanao also has its own share of lavish festivities, spearheaded by the Kadayawan Festival in Davao City, held annually on the third week of August. This time, it is mainly about giving thanks for a bountiful harvest, so the streets are decorated with freshly picked fruits and vegetables. During the celebration, colorful floats loaded with fresh produce and flowers parade through the streets. In addition to the usual street dances, the city organizes horse fights, beauty contests and boat races.
Festival of the Moriones – Marinduque
Every year during Holy Week, a biblical re-enactment takes place on the roads of Marinduque, when the inhabitants put on their interpretation of the helmet, dress and armor of a Roman soldier. As a form of penance, the Festival of the Moriones is intended to represent the search for Longinos, the Roman soldier who pierced Jesus’ side with a spear during the crucifixion. Christian or not, this religious festival is, to say the least, interesting.
Pintados Festival – Tacloban
If you’re into tattoos and body art, you might freak out at the annual Pintados Festival celebration in Tacloban, when locals dance through the streets with inked bodies to symbolize the brave warriors of the past. This June 29 festival, which depicts the natives’ practice of idolatry along with their fondness for music and dance, offers a glimpse of how the natives lived before the arrival of the Spanish.
Higantes Festival – Angono, Rizal
Every November 23, head to Angono, Rizal to be part of their larger-than-life celebration: the Festival de Higantes. To celebrate the feast of San Clemente, people open their homes and table to visitors and travelers. It is also a spectacle to see the papier-mâché giants walking down the street, some of which measure up to 3 meters.
Pahiyas Festival – Lucban, Quezon
Lucban City in Quezon also buzzes with excitement every year on May 15, when the Pahiyas Festival is held to thank the patron saint of farmers, San Isidro de Labrador, for a bountiful harvest. Each house is creatively decorated with fruits, vegetables and the brightly colored rice paper called “kiping”. Get ready for a gastronomic extravaganza and an exciting parade of locals in colorful costumes, papier-mâché giants, carabaos and lavishly designed floats.
Obando Fertility Rites – Obando, Bulacan
We will end this list with a special kind of festival: the Obando Fertility Rites, which are celebrated for 3 days from May 17 to 19. On these days, in Obando, Bulacan, devotees dance the fertility street dance to beseech the three saints, San Pascua, Our Lady of Salambáo and Santa Clara, to bring them good luck, a wife or, above all, a child.
This list barely skims the surface, but it’s a good start to learn more about Philippine culture and tradition.
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