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The Philippines — a Haven of Festivals
by Aira Leigh C. Bagtas

Fiestas were first introduced to the Filipinos by the Spaniards during the mid-1500s. The locals then worshipped many gods and had their own set of cultures and traditions. As part of their strategy to colonize the Philippines, the Spaniards introduced Christianity, assigned patron saints to each town and encouraged the locals to convert and to attend the fiestas in order to be saved from evil.

Nowadays, in addition to commemorating the patron saints' feast days, cultural exhibitions are simultaneously held to promote local products and to honor the history of the town.

Festivals in the Philippines are usually opened with a loud bang: a parade of dancers in colorful costumes and props all made from indigenous or recycled materials, band accompaniment, a friendly competition of the best decorated houses, a mass in honor of the patron saint of the town or province, and a big feast for everyone. Each festival also features a set of activities, such as a sports fest, beauty pageants, cultural shows and performances. Each festival has a unique theme which defines the flavor of the festival.

There are many festivals throughout the Philippines at all times of the year, but here are some of the most famous and most celebrated festivals in the islands of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao:


Pahiyas (May 15)

Celebrated in the town of Lucban, Quezon, the Pahiyas Festival is one of the biggest harvest festivals in May. It is held in honor of San Isidro Labrador, the patron saint of farmers.

The festival is deeply rooted in the Catholic tradition of thanksgiving by offering the first produce to San Isidro. It is also a way for the native Lucbanins to pray for good harvest in the future.

The word "pahiyas" means "to decorate" which is exactly what the festival is all about: Lucbanins decorate their houses with fruits, vegetables, flowers, local handicrafts and kiping, a leaf-shaped and multi-colored rice paste wafer, to express their gratitude for a bountiful year.

Apart from this, Lucbanins make giant paper mâche statues of farmers for the procession, which is held in different towns to ensure that everyone is blessed with San Isidro's presence.

Pinyasan (June 15-24)

The town of Daet, Camarines Norte celebrates the Pineapple Festival every year in honor of the town's foundation day and of the feast day of St. John the Baptist. Then inspired by the Lazones Festival of Camiguin in Mindanao, Camarines Norte mayor Tito Sarte Sarion decided that the town should celebrate its own products instead.

So Sarion institutionalized the Pineapple Festival to showcase the Queen Formosa Pineapple, said to be the country's sweetest pineapple. As Mayor Sarion put it, "Daet will make you lose your diet."

Some of the highlights of the festival are the parade of costumes that are made from pineapples or resemble a pineapple and the cooking contest that must make pineapples the star of the meal. In June 2009, the town was also awarded the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest pineapple chain.

Flores de Mayo (May 1-31)

The Flowers of May is celebrated nationwide in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Helena of Constantinople and Constantine the Great. In this celebration, a series of prayers and masses are held to honor the Holy Cross and it is ended with the Santacruzan or the parade of the Virgin Mary.

Girls usually represent Biblical characters. The title of Marian is given to a girl during the parade and she is escorted under a hand-carried arc decorated with native flowers. The last girl at the procession represents Reyna Elena (Queen Helena of Constantinople) who carries a cross and is usually the winner of the beauty pageant. The escort of Reyna Elena is a boy representing Emperor Constantine.

The whole procession is accompanied by a brass band and followed by devotees holding candles and singing the Hail Mary. While Flores de Mayo is celebrated nationwide, the date differs from each region or city. In Manila, for example, it is held on May 29 in the Walled City of Intramuros.


Pahoy-Pahoy (May 16-25)

Another harvest festival celebrated in the Philippines is the Scarecrow Festival in Calbiga, Samar. Legend says that the maya or ricebirds used to destroy the crops of the people. In order to save themselves from famine, the townsfolk made a "humanoid" called Pahoy (scarecrow) to drive away the birds.

During the festival, the people make their own scarecrows and place them on the porch of their houses or hang them on fences. The parade also features different giant scarecrows made from hay and straw, accompanied by music from bamboo, stones and cans.

Now, the festival is held to give thanks for the abundance of crops.

Pintados (June 29)

Despite the tragedy brought by Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban, Leyte in 2013, the townspeople still look on the bright side and celebrate the good things that happen to them. One of these celebrations is the Pintados Festival honoring the Santo Niño or Holy Child. The festival also recalls the native Leyteños' warriors, the "pintados." The pintados were heavily tattooed men and women who honored their victories through a festival. Back then, the tattoos were a mark of bravery, rank and strength. Those who won numerous fights had the greatest number of tattoos on their bodies. When the Spaniards came to the Visayas, however, they considered this practice evil.

The Spanish missionaries introduced the natives to Christianity and brought the image of the Child Jesus in 1888. The image, known as "El Capitan," influenced the locals and they became believers in Christ.

MassKara (October 19)

The biggest masquerade ball of the country is the MassKara Festival in Bacolod. These masks really get a lot of attention from all over the world because they are unlike any other. The festival is celebrated by a parade of dancers wearing different kinds of masks. Some masks are over a meter long and are made with different fabrics, colors and patterns. Some have feathers, shiny beads and sequins, paint and flowers. There is also a MassKara Queen, the girl with the most beautiful smile.

The masks were said to reflect the jovial Negrense spirit that despite being confronted by challenges, they always put on a happy smile. The first MassKara Festival was held in the early 1980s when the price of sugar, the primary agricultural crop of Bacolod, plummeted. To pull the people out of their gloomy state, the local government decided to hold a festival of happy faces, thus Bacolod has been called the City of Smiles.


Kaliguan (June 21-25)

Also celebrating the feast day of St. John the Baptist are the people of Cagwait, Surigao del Sur through the Kaliguan Festival. The native word "kaliguan" means "to take or have a refreshing bath" after tedious work and it is held as a form of gratitude for the blessings the people received for the year.

Most of the activities are held at the beach, particularly at the Cagwait White Beach where the beach dance competition is held and the Search for the Pelas ng Kaliguan (Pearl of Kaliguan) pageant.

Kadayawan (3rd week of August)

This week-long celebration in Davao is also a harvest festival that features the best products, such as orchids and other flowers, fruits and vegetables, and rice and corn grains. These products are displayed outside or even as part of the house décor to show respect for the harvest.

"Kadayawan" is from the pre-historic word "madayaw," a warm and friendly greeting used to explain a thing that is valuable. It is also a celebration of life, thanksgiving of gifts of nature and wealth of culture and the multi-colored mix of Davao and Mindanao's indigenous communities.

The first festival was celebrated a long time ago when Davao's ethnic tribes were still residing at the foot of Mount Apo. They would gather there every time there was a bountiful harvest. The feast served as their thanksgiving to the Supreme Being "Manama." It was then called "Apo Duwaling" after the famous icons of Davao: Mt. Apo, the country's highest peak; Durian, the king of fruits; and Waling-waling, the queen of orchids.

Hermosa (October 12)

Zamboanga celebrates the Hermosa Festival or Fiesta Pilar in honor of Our Lady of the Pillar (Nuestra Señora del Pilar) for being the unifying symbol of the city. It is also one of the oldest festivals in the country. The people of Zamboanga are deeply devoted to the Nuestra Señora del Pilar as they believe that she is the giver of miracles. Some people even swore that the Lady appeared to them in an apparition.

Some of the activities during this event are the talent show, the parade of festivals and the most awaited Regatta De Zamboanga, the famous Vinta competition that features the traditional colorful boats in a racing stint.

While these festivals represent the diverse culture of the Philippines, the best part of it is the Filipinos' spirit of bayanihan or "selfless outpouring of community spirit."

In reality, these festivals cost a lot and are really intricate to organize, but some will give whatever they have, no matter how small, just to help out and put their best Pinoy pride hat on.

More importantly, it's a time of thanksgiving. Regardless of religion, Filipinos always express their gratitude to the Creator. They make sure that they give back to Him everything that they receive and offer to Him everything that they do. Festivals for Filipinos are a time of merry-making, fun and entertainment, but it is also a time of being together and being grateful for what they have.

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