Experience the colorful culture of the Philippines by joining the vibrant festivals around the country. There are a number of holidays, long weekends and top festivals that happen throughout the year. These vibrant events are characterized by the history, artistry, creativity, and passion of the people. While some of them take place for just a day, a lot of them are celebrating for a week and even for an entire month.
I know most are itching to go out and explore but with the pandemic still raging, travel plans are largely on hold for the foreseeable future. But for future reference, here are the top 12 festivals in the Philippines that you shouldn’t miss!
1. Ati-Atihan Festival in Kalibo, Aklan
When: January (3rd Sunday)
What is it: Ati-Atihan is celenbrated in honor of the Child Jesus, the Santo Niño. Three days of parades lead up to the main procession that starts in the church on Sunday afternoon. The parades are colorful and vibrant, much like the Mardi Gras carnival in Brazil.
2. Sinulog Festival in Cebu City, Cebu
When: 3rd Sunday of January
What is it: tribute to the Child Jesus, the Santo Niño involves dancing the Sinulog, a two-step dance believed to be an indigenous ritual that traces its roots to tribes of pre-hispanic Philippines. The magnificence of the festival made Filipinos, as well as our fellow Asians, refer to it as the “Mother of all Festivals”.
3. Dinagyang Festival in Iloilo City, Iloilo
When: January (4th Sunday)
What is it: It is a mixture of culture and religion. Among the common themes of the performances during Dinagyang are the pagan rituals of the Ati tribe and the introduction of Catholicism, represented by relics of Señor Sto Niño in all forms and sizes. In its early years, Dinagyang was a parish celebration where natives covered in ash danced in the streets, adopting the Ati-Atihan of Aklan. Now, the celebration has evolved to feature joyous performers in colorful costumes, dancing to the beat of the drums while chanting “Hala Bira” with the crowd.
4. Panagbenga Festival in Baguio City
When: February (4th week)
What is it: The festival was named “Panagbenga”, a Kankanaey (native language in the province of Benguet and Mountain Province) term which means “season of blooming.” Primarily showcasing the history, arts, culture and traditions of Baguio and other parts of Cordillera. Through the years, the Panagbenga Festival continues to be Baguio’s biggest single crowd drawer of both local and foreign tourists with its month-long festivities.
5. Moriones Festival in Marinduque
When: Holy Week, March or April (Holy Week – Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday)
What is it: It celebrates the life of Longinus, the Roman soldier who pierced Christ’s side during the Crucifixion. The Marinduqueyo’s version is colorful and bizarre, involving fanciful masked figures dressed as centurions chasing Longinus around town and through nearby fields. These costumed locals are farmers and fishermen who engage in the street theater as a form of penitence.
6. Pahiyas Festival in Lucban, Quezon
When: 14 May to 15 May
What is it: The celebration is a form of thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest and in honor of the patron saint of farmers, San Isidro de Labrador. Pahiyas was derived from “payas”, which means “to decorate”. This became the main draw of the festival – houses decked out in fruits, flowers, vegetables, and the famous kiping – a wafer made of rice and food coloring shaped in the form of a leaf.
7. Parada ng Lechon in Balayan, Batangas
When: 24 June
What is it: This annual festivity is done in commemoration of the baptism of Jesus Christ done by St. John the Baptist. To show the thanksgiving and veneration of their patron saint, resident and neighboring municipalities ready their lechon or the roasted pig for parade. Lechon is one of Batangas delicacies, and even in other provinces in the Philippines. With lechon as the highlight of the occasion, some make use of it and creatively dress them according to the theme of participating groups. Some lechons are dressed as a motorcycle driver, a student, a cook, basketball player, and even a beauty queen.
8. Pintados Festival in Tacloban City
When: 29 June
What is it: Also known as Pintados-Kasadyaan Festival, this celebration is all about the tattooed warriors that fought for Leyte. Dancers paint their bodies in patterns that resemble armor to represent past warriors. The festival, officially called Leyte Pintados-Kasadyaan Festival. It is held annually on June 29, the day of the Feast of the Señor Santo Niño de Leyte.
9. Kadayawan Festival in Davao City
When: August (3rd week)
What is it: The city of Davao annually celebrates all the good things in life – gifts of nature, wealth of culture, the bounties of harvest, and the serenity of living – through this festival. “Kadayawan” is derived from the Dabawenyo word “madayaw” which means good, valuable, or beautiful. It is also a tribute to its indigenous people. Being raised in Davao City, I’ve attended this festival so many times and I could say it never ceases to amaze me.
10. MassKara Festival in Bacolod City
When: October (Highlights on 4th Sunday)
What is it: Also known as the “Festival of Smiles”, this festival was initiated in 1980 by artists and the local government when city morale was at an all-time low: there was a decrease in the demand for sugar (the city’s primary product) and a nautical tragedy involving the inter-island vessel MV San Juan. The festival, therefore, served as a constant reminder that no matter how rough times can get, Bacolod will survive with a smile.
11. Higantes Festival in Angono, Rizal
When: 22-23 November
What is it: A secular celebration initiated to express gratitude to Saint Clement, the patron saint of fishermen. The main event is a procession of the patron saint, which is carried by male devotees, followed by “pahadores” (devotees dressed in colorful local costumes or fishermen’s clothes, wooden shoes and carrying boat paddles, fish nets, traps, etc). Adding to the festivity is the parade of the giants or “Higantes”, these are papier-mâché images measuring four to five feet in diameter and ten to twelve feet in height.
12. Giant Lantern Festival in San Fernando, Pampanga
When: 14 Dec to 20 Dec, or (month long)
What is it: Also known as “Ligligan Parul” is an annual event that takes place during the month of December, which is the Christmas season in the Philippines. The Giant Lantern Festival Competition that takes place in mid-December is the main highlight of the festival. This is a competition between the creators of giant lanterns. The annual festival, which earned for Pampanga the title “Home of Giant Lanterns” and the distinction as the “Christmas Capital of the Philippines.”
The Philippines is not all about island-hopping and food trips. There are plenty of things to discover, and a lot of them can be seen by attending one of these best festivals in the country.
This is actually on the bucket list and having to experience each of them first-hand feels surreal. You learn (and enjoy) a lot, then you realize you know very little. It’s as though getting to know a friend on a deeper level. And with that… #BucketList, ticked!
Have you attended any festivals recently? How was your experience? Where and what did you enjoy most? Would you consider seeing one here in the Philippines? Which one would you go to? I’d like to know by commenting below.