The Philippines is home to fun-loving Filipinos who enjoy celebrations and getting together with friends and families. Aside from these cultural traits, the country is predominantly Catholic tracing its religious lineage from Colonial Spain. The origin of most early festivals known as “fiestas” in the Philippines dates back to this colonial period when the Spanish friars assigned a patron saint to many communities (barrios or towns). These early festivals coincide with Christian holy days hence they became instrumental in spreading Christianity throughout the archipelago.
Aside from being religious, fiestas in the Philippines could also be celebrated to commemorate local history and culture, to promote the community’s products, or to celebrate a rich harvest. The celebrations may take the form of holy masses held in churches, processions, parades, theatrical plays and reenactments, religious or cultural rituals, trade fairs, exhibits, concerts, pageants and the holding of various games and contests.
There is a long list of festivals in the Philippines so there is at least one fiesta in a town somewhere in the country at any given day of the year. The celebration may last anywhere between a day to an entire month, but these celebrations are always huge and colorful that they are favorite among local and foreign tourists alike.
If you’re looking for a festival to attend, here’s a suggested list of 10 most popular festivals in the Philippines in chronological order.
1. Ati-Atihan Festival, 3rd weekend of January – Kalibo, Aklan
This is one of the oldest religious celebrations in the country. This festival of Sto. Niño (Infant Jesus) started the long list of celebrations with its grand parade filled with face-painted celebrants wearing indigenous costumes and weapons, dancing tribal dances to the beat of loud drums. Ati-Atihan which means “to be like Atis” is a very lively, colorful week-long celebration.
Tourists who flock to Kalibo can join the festivities by covering themselves in black soot and dancing in the streets to the loud beats of drums and experience this Filipino version of “Mardi Gras”.
2. Sinulog Festival, 3rd weekend of January – Cebu City
This is Cebu City’s own version of the Feast of Sto. Niño and is the center of the Sto Niño celebrations in the Philippines. It is one of the most attended festivals in the country with millions of local and foreign tourists from many parts of the world. In 2013, it was reported that over 4M people participated in the festival.
During this celebration, contingents from neighboring provinces are invited to showcase their regional prowess in street dancing, pageantry, and sports. Coinciding with the religious and cultural shows are big and lavish parties or raves, which draws huge number of party-goers from all over the country.
If you happen to be in Cebu City during this feast, you can join the crowd by chanting “Pit Señor!” a phrase which means “Panangpit sa Señor,” a Cebuano phrase that means to plead to the Señor Santo Niño.
3. Dinagyang Festival, 4th weekend of January – Iloilo City
Held on the fourth Sunday of January, or after the Ati-Atihan in Aklan, and the Sinulog in Cebu, this festival is held both to honor the Santo and to celebrate the arrival in Panay of Malay settlers and the subsequent selling of the island to them by the Atis.
Once a year, the streets of Iloilo transforms into one big street party with streets closed, band playing in every corner, people serving food and drinks, and towering boom boxes. Groups from different barangays and students from different schools compete in the street dancing contests.
The people of the city takes pride in holding this annual festival with such lavish and outstanding support that this once simple celebration in honor of the child Jesus ended up winning several awards including the Association of Tourism Officers of the Philippines’ (ATOP) title holder for Best Tourism Event of the Philippines.
4. Panagbenga Festival, February – Baguio City
Panagbenga Festival (Flower Festival) is a month-long annual flower festival held in Baguio City. Meaning “season of blooming” a term in Kankanaey origin, the festival lives up to its name. Floral floats and children dressed up as flora and fauna join the parade which is truly a feast to the eyes. The festival is held as a tribute to the city’s flowers and as a way to rise from the devastation of the earthquake in Luzon in 1990. The floats used are covered mostly with flowers similar to those used in Pasadena’s Rose Parade.
During the festival, the whole length of Session Road is closed to the traffic to give way to flower carts, street dancing, and outdoor cafes.
5. Moriones Festival, Holy Week – Boac, Gasan, and Mogpog, Marinduque
This week-long religious festival is one of the top destinations during the Holy Week in the island of Marinduque. It celebrates the life of St. Longinus, a centurion who converted to Christianity. Morion refers to the helmet worn by the centurions while Moriones refers to the costumed penitents reenacting the search for St. Longinus.
Men and women in costumes and masks replicating the clothing of biblical Roman soldiers or centurions play along during the festival. One person acts as Longinus, hiding from the Moriones while other townspeople allow him to hide in their houses. Via Crucis or the reenactment of the Passion of Christ is also part of this Philippine Festival.
6. Pahiyas Festival, 15th May – Lucban, Quezon
Pahiyas is a religious, cultural, and harvest thanksgiving festival to San Isidro Labrador, the Patron Saint of Farmers. It is a spectator-type of festival and one of the most colorful harvest festivals in the Philippines. People of Lucban compete with each other decorating the exterior of their houses with different-colored produces called locally as kiping.
Some of the produce used as decorations are singkamas (turnip), talong (eggplant), sigarilyas (winged bean) and all other vegetables and fruits mentioned in the Tagalog folk song Bahay Kubo. People can actually bring baskets and pick the produce from the walls for free.
7. Pintados Festival, 29th of June – Tacloban City
This is a cultural-religious celebration based on body-painting traditions of the ancient tattooed “pintados” warriors. By 1986, through the Pintados Foundation, Inc. the celebration is organized in honor of the Sto. Niño. Years later, it was merged with the Kasadyaan Festival which is always held on June 29.
Pintados festival has its own unique flavor recalling pre-Spanish history of the native people of Leyte from wars, to epic and folk religions. The festival includes festive dancers, painted from head to toe depicting the tattooed warriors of old.
8. Kadayawan Festival, 3rd week August – Davao City
A thanksgiving harvest festival to celebrate the harvest of Davao’s fruits, flowers and other farm produce, this is a flower, cultural and spectator-type festival celebrated every 3rd week of August. Its name comes from the Mandaya word “madayaw”, a warm and friendly greeting used to describe something good and beautiful. It starts with the “Indak Indak sa Kadalanan” held on the Saturday of that weekend and lasts from morning till afternoon.
Probably the biggest festival in Mindanao, the street dancing festival showcases the colorful costumes, traditions and stories of the different tribes in Davao.
9. MassKara Festival, closest weekend to October 19 – Bacolod City
A Masquerade Party to lift up the spirits of the Bacolod people after the Sugar Crisis in 1980’s, its name comes from the English word “mass” meaning “multitude of people”, and Spanish word “kara” meaning “face”. It is a festival of smiles where you will see participants wearing smiling masks signifying a multitude of smiling faces, solidifying Bacolod’s title as the “City of Smiles.”
Aside from colorful masks, there are street dancing, electrical displays, and other fun activities. Like the Sinulog, it is a favorite among the younger party crowd as it is conveniently held during school semester break.
10. Giant Lantern Festival, Saturday before Christmas Eve – San Fernando City
Known locally as Ligligan Parul, this annual festival held in December features a competition of giant lanterns. The city owed its nickname as the “Christmas Capital of the Philippines” to the popularity of this festival.
The origin of this modern day Giant Lantern Festival was actually a religious activity called “lubenas”. During the early times, the lanterns were only two feet in diameter, a far cry from the 15 feet we see today. These were created from bamboo and other locally available materials. These paruls were brought around each barrio in procession to their visita. Before the midnight mass on Christmas Eve, the lanterns were brought to the town church together with the barrio patrons.
This tradition gradually evolved to the present day Giant Lantern Festival as the lanterns grow bigger and the designs became more intricate.
As mentioned earlier, these are just some of the many festivals celebrated in the Philippines. There are still a lot of festivals not mentioned above. The next time you plan your travel to a particular town or province in the Philippines, make sure to consider scheduling it to a festival date celebrated in the area.