Did you know that the Philippines has more than 42,000 festivals? While most of these Philippine festivals are minor ones, being celebrated only at the barangay level, the sheer number alone is enough for the country to be hailed (unofficially) as the “Capital of the World’s Festivities.”
Philippine festivals, more popularly known among locals as “fiestas,” mostly trace their roots to the Spanish era. This is because, during that time, a lot of towns and barrios were assigned their respective patron saints whose death day was commemorated. Such a celebration was often referred to as the saint’s feast day.
Spanish authorities encouraged the holding of festivals to coincide with designated holy days and these proved to be an effective tool to spread Christianity in most parts of the country.
Philippine festivals are not all religious in nature. They can be cultural too, or a combination of both. They are held to highlight the produce of the community or give thanks for a really good harvest.
Activities during festivals include trade fairs, locally known as “perya” and usually highlighted by amusement parks and different kinds of games of luck that are temporarily set up in an open ground. There are also holy masses, pageants, parades and processions, even plays and concerts.
Many of these Philippine festivals have grown in scope through the years that they have become a major spectacle and tourist attraction, gathering people not just from around the Philippines but even from different countries.
The Most Popular Philippine Festivals
Here are the biggest festivals in the Philippines that continue to boost the image and the local economy of their host province.
When: Every third Sunday of January
Where: Kalibo, Aklan, Panay Island
What: Ironically, Ati-Atihan (meaning “to imitate Ati” or the Aetas) started as a pagan celebration but then morphed into what it is today, which is a tribute given to the Santo Niño.
It is mostly known for street dancers covered in soot and wearing indigenous costumes. Lively music is provided mainly by drummers with a bandleader giving beat instructions using a whistle. Guests can join in on the fun as long as they are willing to be smudged with soot.
Bailes de Luces Festival
When: January 5
Where: La Castellana, Negros Occidental
What: Although this festival is relatively young, having been started in 1997 only, it has quickly gained national and even international attention, and for a good reason. Literally meaning “festival of lights,” Bailes De Luces is the town’s way of celebrating the New Year mainly with a colorful and lively parade featuring costumed-clad people dancing to a Latin beat, various floats, and even children—all wearing twinkling lights.
When: January 4
What: Just like the Ati-Atihan, Dinagyang (the Ilonggo word for merrymaking) is held to give tribute to the Santo Niño. It also commemorates the arrival of Malay immigrants to the region and celebrates the indigenous Aeta people of Aklan Island. Its claim to fame is its street party, overflowing food and drinks, and a street dance competition participated in by local schools and districts.
When: Every third week of August
Where: Davao City
What: “Kadayawan” comes from the Dabawenyo word “madayaw,” which translates to superior, valuable, and good. In Tagalog, it can mean “pagpapahalaga” (appreciation or giving importance) and “pasasalamat” (giving thanks).
Kadayawan is recognized as Mindanao’s biggest and most colorful festival, celebrating the province’s bountiful fruits, flowers, and other fresh products. These items adorn different floats that roll through Davao’s main streets. There are also beauty pageants, ethnic dance competitions, food events, and fireworks.
When: Every fourth Sunday of October
What: You might be surprised to learn that this festival was the direct result of two tragedies in 1980 that befell Bacolod—the bottoming out of the sugar industry on which most of the province depend for their livelihood and the tragic sea accident that left almost 200 people dead.
To prove that they can bounce back, the Negrenses held the first Masskara Festival on Oct. 19, 1980, with participants donning colorful smiling masks as they paraded on the street, dancing to the tune of Latin drum beats. Other highlights included concerts, sports events, and a beauty pageant. It was so successful that it became a yearly tradition. Bacolod since then has been known as the City of Smiles.
When: Holy Week
What: It is a festival and a reenactment of the seven-day search for St. Longinus, a centurion who chose to become a Christian, by his fellow Roman soldiers. Participants, both men and women, wear “morion” masks (thus, the name of the festival) that are made to look like the faces of Roman soldiers, as well as costumes.
The story is told within the setting of the Passion of the Christ. These “Roman soldiers” looking for “St. Longinus” who can hide in anybody’s home may scare kids along the way or give them treats.
When: May 15
Where: Lucban, Quezon
What: “Pahiyas” comes from the root word “payas,” meaning “decoration” or “to decorate” and is a harvest festival that gives honor to the patron saint of farmers, San Isidro Labrador.
It’s arguably one of the most colorful Philippine festivals because most, if not all of the houses in the province are bedecked with colorful kiping—a kind of wafer made from rice—and fruits and vegetables. Anybody can partake of these treats for free but not before the awards for the best decorations are given, of course.
When: Every February
What: This month-long festival is held annually, and similar to Bacolod’s Masskara, is Baguio’s response to a tragic event as well, in this case, the devastating Luzon earthquake in 1990.
Panagbenga, which is a Kankanaey term for “season of blooming,” gave tribute to its flowers even as the city rose from the tragedy. It has been held ever since and has become Baguio’s main event attended by both locals and tourists from all over the country and the world. Its most eagerly awaited highlight is the parade of giant floats made of flowers and can be compared to the Rose Parade of Los Angeles, California in the United States.
If you want to know more about visiting or living in Baguio, check out our Baguio Neighborhood Guide here.
When: June 29
Where: Tacloban, Leyte
What: The month-long celebration is another tribute to the Santo Niño and highlights the rich culture and heritage of Leyte and Samar. Its main claim to fame though is the street dancing where participants display painted designs on their bodies. This is a way to keep alive the tradition of warriors of old known by the Spaniards as “pintados” because they painted their bodies with intricate designs as a form of defense or armor. The festival’s climactic event is a grand dance presentation.
When: Every third Sunday of January
What: Hailed as the central festival in the Philippines that honors the Santo Niño, Sinulog comes from the Cebuano word “sulog,” a term for a river current. “Sinulog” is “graceful dance” in its literal sense.
It is held to celebrate the conversion to Catholicism of Cebuanos, with the Santo Niño image at its center. If Brazil has its Mardis Gras, the Philippines has its own internationally known version, which is the Sinulog.
The Most Unique and Bizarre Philippine Festivals
Anilag Festival (Laguna)
Its name a portmanteau of the phrase “ani ng Laguna” (Laguna’s harvest), this festival is a week-long celebration of culture, history, and religion held every second week of March. What makes it unique is the fact that it rolls into one the 26 Philippine festivals that Laguna regularly celebrates. All 3 cities and 27 municipalities that make up the province participate.
Aswang Festival (Capiz)
First held in 2004, this festival in Capiz nevertheless gained much attention in just a short time because of its subject matter for which the province is (notoriously) known for: the shapeshifting aswang. A big parade is held participated in by people wearing different monster costumes. Organizers thought it was a good way to change the image of the province as “aswang country.” The festival did not last though, getting shut down in 2007 because of the strong resistance from the Catholic Church.
Bagoong Festival (Lingayen, Pangasinan)
Not all Filipinos like eating bagoong (salted fish/shrimp paste) but it’s the main source of livelihood for most of the citizens of Lingayen. It is for this reason why they have decided to hold this yearly festival, starting in 2011. Street dancers wear shrimp costumes and hang bagoong bottles in their clothes.
Baliw-Baliw Festival (Olango Island, Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu)
Meaning “crazy” in local parlance, the festival is characterized by cross-dressing men (some of whom carry big wooden phalluses) and arranged fights between a duck and a cat. Others would also bring kittens and frogs. Believe it or not, this strange festival has been celebrated since the early 1900s as part of the feast day of San Vicente Ferrer, the patron saint of the village.
Carabao Festival (Nueva Ecija, Bulacan, Angono)
Celebrated on May 15 to 16 by the farming towns of San Isidro in Nueva Ecija, Angono in Rizal, and Pulilan in Bulacan, the festival is a tribute to the carabao or water buffalo, a farmer’s trusted companion as he works the field. The animals are bathed and decorated with ribbons or painted in colorful colors and their skin and horns made shiny. They are then brought to church and made to kneel on their front legs to receive a blessing from the priest. The next day, they compete in a race while pulling a bamboo carriage.
Higantes Festival (Angono, Rizal)
Held every Nov. 23, the festival traces its roots to the late 1800s where it was used to mock the ruling class who owned haciendas during that time and prevented ordinary folks from celebrating more than one festival in a year. Giant papier-mâchés who looked like “hacienderos” were paraded, often depicted with hands at their waist and facial expressions like they were giving orders. Today, the higantes are made to represent each village’s specialization (for example, if they produce duck eggs or balut, then the giant would have a head shaped like a duck.
Katigbawan Festival (Catigbian, Bohol)
Every June 17, the town begins the week-long celebration of its founding, highlighted by a “beauty pageant” where the participants are not the expected pretty women of the place. Instead, it’s carabaos that vie for the crown, complete with colorful costumes. They are also made to showcase their talents.
Ligligan Parul (San Fernando, Pampanga)
The city of San Fernando is famous for its intricate and colorful Christmas lanterns (parol), and this is because of the festival that started either in 1904 or 1908 depending on whom you ask. The festival actually started in Bacolor but on a much simpler scale. When the provincial capital moved from Bacolor to San Fernando, the festival was brought along where it became bigger and grander, with lanterns reaching 15 feet across in size. The festival is held from Dec. 16 to 24 to coincide with the Simbang Gabi.
Lukayo Festival (Kalayaan, Laguna)
Its name is a contraction of the phrase “Luka-luka kayo!” (“You’re crazy!”). The festival is a tradition that many in Laguna believe to help women become pregnant soon after their wedding. During the wedding of a couple, a ritual is performed where women dressed in outrageous costumes sing songs filled with sexual innuendos and brandish wooden phallic symbols, eggplants, and other representations of the male organ.
Mayohan sa Tayabas (Tayabas City, Quezon)
The festival is held from May 6 to 15 to honor the town’s patron saint, San Isidro Labrador, and to give thanks for the blessings of the past year and to wish for the same for the New Year. On the last day of festivities, people engage in Hagisan ng Suman during the procession of San Isidro Labrador’s statue around the town. People throw suman (a snack or dessert made of glutinous rice and coconut milk) and other food to the procession and those who can catch them are believed to ensure a good year for them.
Obando Fertility Rites (Obando, Bulacan)
Perhaps one of the most famous unique Philippine festivals, the Obando Fertility Rites are held from May 17 to 19. Originally a pagan ritual wherein couples wanting to have children parade in the streets while dancing, the festival evolved during the Spanish period, incorporating patron saints into the ritual such as San Pascual de Baylon, Santa Clara, and the Lady of Salambao. Even singles can join in if they are looking for a future partner or fishermen and farmers hoping for a bountiful harvest.
Parada ng Lechon Festival (Balayan, Batangas)
Every June 24, roasted pigs are paraded around the town to celebrate the feast day of St. John the Baptist. While other cities around the country have their version of this festival, Balayan stands out as their paraded pigs are often dressed in costumes. Once the procession reaches the church, the roasted pigs are blessed and then made available to be consumed by the public.
Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Festival (Clark Freeport Zone, Pampanga)
A direct result of the eruption of Mount Pinatubo, the balloon festival was first held to help the province bounce back from the calamity. More than a hundred hot air balloons piloted by experts from around the world participate in the four-day event between January and February. There are also skydiving, rocketry demonstrations, flying of remote-controlled airplanes and helicopters, kite-making and kite-flying, and other air-related activities. Around 100,000 local and foreign tourists attend the event.
Piestang Tugak (San Fernando City, Pampanga)
While other towns give honor to pigs and carabaos, San Fernando gives thanks to frogs, being an important part of Pampanga’s culture. Every first week of October, the townsfolk of San Fernando hold their festival with traditional frog-catching contests and other games and activities centered on the amphibian. Of course, culinary dishes featuring frogs are also put front and center.
Rodeo Masbateño (Masbate City, Masbate)
You don’t need to go west to experience real-life rodeos with authentic cowboys trying to subdue bulls. Masbate holds such an event every April, hailed as its biggest, and making the province the official Rodeo Capital of the Philippines. Aside from cow-wrestling, other events during the five-day festival are cattle parades, cow lassoing, barn dances, cattle parades, and livestock shows.
San Pedro Cutud Lenten Rites (San Fernando City, Pampanga)
Every Good Friday, three penitents of this city would reenact the crucifixion, with one playing the role of Jesus Christ and the other two the thieves who were crucified with him. All three are nailed on their respective crosses as their way of repentance from their sins. Other penitents don’t go as far but they do their way of penance by parading on the streets while striking their bare back with bamboo whips.
Taong Putik Festival Festival (Aliaga, Nueva Ecija)
In many parts of the Philippines, celebrating the feast day of John the Baptist on June 24 means dousing people with water. In Aliaga, they take it much further by covering their bodies with mud, vines, and banana leaves before they join the procession.
According to local historians, the festival has its roots during World War II when the male residents of the town were about to be executed by the Japanese. It rained heavily, however, and the invaders took it as a bad sign and so, they let the condemned men go. To celebrate, the men and the rest of the villagers rolled in the mud, attributing the miracle to St. John the Baptist.
Turogpo (Carigara, Leyte)
Started during the 1600s, it is believed to be the locals’ subtle protest against Spanish colonization. The festival is held on Black Saturday and includes carabao fights, horse fights, and cockfights. Its name is the Waray term for “to meet” or “match make.”
Bonus: Must-See Philippine Festivals in Metro Manila
Held in April or May at the Star City Complex in Pasay City, the event showcases the different cultural Philippine festivals that people in Metro Manila don’t need to go to the provinces to personally experience those events.
Bailes de Los Arcos
Poblacion, Makati may be comparable to Silicon Valley in the United States as it is home to a lot of startup companies, but it retains many of the old traditions, such as the Bailes de Los Arcos (Dance of the Arches). The feast celebrates the saints Peter and Paul and the Virgen dela Rosa, and daughters of devotees are made to render a unique dance.
Bamboo Organ Festival
The festival is a 10-day event held in February and is made up of a series of cultural celebrations centered on the world-famous bamboo organ in Las Piñas.
Feast Day of San Juan
Also known as the Wattah Wattah Festival or the Basaan Festival, it celebrates the birth of Saint John the Baptist. People on the streets douse each other with water as well as unsuspecting passersby riding public transport.
Feast of Sta. Marta de Pateros
The celebration is the Pateros folks’ way of giving thanks to their patron saint for saving the duck egg industry, for which the town is famous. One of its highlights is the street dancing to the tune of fandango music belted out by musicians.
Feast of the Black Nazarene
Held annually on January 9, the festival is mostly known for the Traslacion, the procession that attracts thousands of devotees hoping to touch any part of the Black Nazarene image of Jesus Christ.
Flores de Mayo
Celebrated during May, it honors the Virgin Mary for the rains that make the flowers bloom. The highlight of the festival is the Santacruzan, a procession representing the search for the Holy Cross by Queen Helena and her son Constantine.
La Loma’s Lechon Festival
Like the Parada ng Lechon of Batangas, La Loma’s Lechon Festival also parades roasted pigs in different costumes. La Loma is a district in Quezon City that is the center of Metro Manila’s lechon business.
The Philippines’ largest multi-arts festival, Pasinaya is hosted by the Cultural Center of the Philippines. It has been attracting artists and art enthusiasts for 15 years now. It offers workshops and a variety of performances and exhibitions covering music, theater, literature, film, and visual art.
One of the most-awaited annual activities by the University of the Philippines, the UP Fair is usually held on the week of February 14 every year. It features rides, bazaars, and performances by different Filipino bands and artists.
UP/UPLB Lantern Parade
The Lantern Parade is just one of the many school-based Philippine festivals. Participated in by UP’s various colleges and offices, the Lantern Parade is held every Dec. 13 at the UP Diliman grounds in Quezon City. A similar event takes place at UP Los Baños.
This list may already be long, but it covers just a small portion of the total number of Philippine festivals regularly held around the country. It only goes to show how colorful and exciting the lives of Filipinos can be, and that no matter where you live or plan to move, there is a fiesta to be experienced and enjoy.
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