Every community in the Philippines – from small barrio to busy metropolis – has at least a couple of festivals a year in honour of a patron saint, to give thanks for a good harvest, or to pay respects to a biblical character. It’s well worth timing your visit to see one of the major events; the main fiesta months are from January to May, but exact dates often vary. Everyone is in a hospitable mood at these events. The beer flows, pigs are roasted, and there’s dancing in the streets for days on end.
Major mardi-gras-style festivals include the Ati-Atihan in January in Kalibo, and the Sinulog in January in Cebu. One of the biggest nationwide festivals is the Flores de Mayo, a religious parade held across the country throughout May in honour of the Virgin Mary.
A festivals calendar
Listing all Filipino festivals below is impossible. Those included here are larger ones that you might consider making a special trip for, at least if you happen to be in the area.
January and February
Feast of the Black Nazarene (Jan 9) Quiapo, Manila. Devotees gather in the plaza outside Quiapo Church to touch a miraculous image of Christ.
Sinulog (Third Sun in Jan) Cebu City whttp://www.sinulog.ph. The second city’s biggest annual event, in honour of the Santo Niño (an image of Jesus as a child). Huge street parade, live music, plenty of food and drink.
Ati-Atihan (Variable, usually second week of Jan) Kalibo, Aklan province. Street dancing and wild costumes at arguably the biggest festival in the country, held to celebrate an ancient land pact between settlers and indigenous Atis.
Dinagyang (Fourth week of Jan) Iloilo whttp://www.dinagyangsailoilo.com. Relatively modern festival based on the Ati-Atihan and including a parade on the Iloilo River.
Philippine Hot Air Balloon Fiesta (Feb) Clark, Pampanga whttp://www.philballoonfest.net. Balloon rides, microlight flying, skydiving and aerobatics displays.
Pamulinawen (First two weeks in Feb) Laoag City. City-wide fiesta in honour of St William the Hermit. Events include street parties, beauty pageants, concerts and religious parades.
Panagbenga (Baguio Flower festival) (Third week in Feb) Baguio City. The summer capital’s largest annual event includes parades of floats beautifully decorated with flowers from the Cordillera region. There are also flower-related lectures and exhibitions.
Suman festival (Third week in Feb) Baler, Aurora. Another mardi-gras-style extravaganza featuring street parades, dancing and floats decorated with the native delicacy suman, sticky rice cake rolled in banana leaves.
March and April
Moriones (Easter weekend) Marinduque. A celebration of the life of the Roman centurion Longinus, who was blind in one eye. Legend says that when he pierced Christ’s side with his spear, blood spurted into his eye and cured him.
Arya! Abra (First or second week of March) Bangued, Abra. Highlights include hair-raising bamboo-raft races along the frisky Abra River and gatherings of northern tribes.
Bangkero festival (First or second week of March) Pagsanjan, Laguna. Parade along the Pagsanjan River.
Kaamulan festival (First week of March) Malaybalay City, Bukidnon, Mindanao. Showcase of tribal culture and arts.
Pasayaw festival (Third week of March) Canlaon City, Negros Oriental. Thanksgiving festival to God and St Joseph, with twelve barangays competing for honours in an outdoor dancing competition. The final “dance-off” is held in the city gym.
Boracay International Dragon Boat Festival (April) Boracay, whttp://www.boracaydragonboat.ph. A local version of Hong Kong’s dragon-boat races, featuring domestic and international teams competing in long wooden canoes on a course off White Beach.
Allaw Ta Apo Sandawa (Second week of April) Kidapawan City, North Cotabato. Gathering of highland tribes to pay respects to the sacred Mount Apo.
Turumba festival (April & May) Pakil, Laguna. Religious festival commemorating the seven sorrows of the Virgin Mary. The festival consists of seven novenas, one for each sorrow, held at weekends.
Flores de Mayo (Throughout May) Countrywide. Religious procession celebrating the coming of the rains, with girls dressed as the various “Accolades of our Lady”, including Faith, Hope and Charity. Processions are sometimes held after dark and lit by candles, a lovely sight.
Carabao Carroza (May 3–4) Iloilo, Panay Island. Races held to celebrate the humble carabao (water buffalo), beast of burden for many a provincial farmer.
Pahiyas (May 15) Lucban, Quezon; also celebrated in the nearby towns of Candelaria, Tayabas, Sariaya, Tiaong and Lucena. Colourful harvest festival which sees houses gaily decorated with fruits and vegetables. It’s held in honour of San Isidro Labrador, the patron saint of farmers.
Obando Fertility Rites (May 17–19) Obando, Bulacan. On the feast day of San Pascual, women gather in the churchyard to chant prayers asking for children.
June to September
Kadayawan sa Davao (Third week of Aug) Davao City whttp://www.kadayawan.com. Week-long harvest festival with civic parades, military parades, street dances and horsefighting.
Peñafrancia Fluvial festival (Third Sat in Sept) Naga, Camarines Sur. A sacred statue of Our Lady of Peñafrancia, the patron saint of Bicol, is paraded through the streets, then sailed down the Bicol River back to its shrine.
October to December
Kansilay (Oct 19 or closest weekend) Silay, Negros Occidental. Modern festival commemorating Silay’s charter day. Eating and drinking contests, beauty pageants and an elaborate street parade.
Ibalong (Third week of Oct) Legaspi and throughout Bicol. Epic dances and street presentations portraying Bicol’s mythical superheroes and gods.
Lanzones festival (Third week of Oct) Lambajao, Camiguin. Vibrant and good-natured outdoor party giving thanks for the island’s crop of lanzones (a tropical fruit).
MassKara (Third week of Oct) Bacolod, Negros Occidental. Festivities kick off with food fairs, mask-making contests, brass-band competitions and beauty pageants, followed by the climax – a mardi-gras parade where revellers don elaborate mask and costumes and dance to Latin rhythms Rio de Janeiro-style.