As a country comprised of 7,107 islands, the Philippines is undoubtedly one of the most diverse nations in the world. Because it was colonized by the Spaniards, Japanese and Americans its traditions, language, culture and religions are a fascinating fusion from these countries and its indigenous tribes.
If you’re looking to experience this diversity first hand, attending a few of the island nation’s unique annual festivals is a great way to get a feel for the country in a relatively short amount of time. Here’s a quick overview of the top seven festivals from all over the country.
1. Ati-Atihan Festival
This colorful two-week festival is held every year in January in Aklan province, and is known for being one of the Philippines’ wildest fiestas, often compared to Mardi Gras in other parts of the world. Panay, where Aklan is located, is the sixth largest island in the Philippines and its indigenous people the Ati, are known for their distinctively dark skin. The festival’s name translates as “make believe Atis,” and during the festivities, revelers paint their faces and arms black with soot and wear brightly colored costumes, masks and headdress, literally pretending to be Atis.
2. Sinulog Festival
The Sinulog festival is held in the popular city of Cebu. It takes place every year on the third Sunday of January and is held in honor of Santo Niño (the child Jesus) the province’s patron saint. It celebrates the time when the Filipino people were converted from paganism and embraced the Catholic faith. Although this all sounds rather stoic, the festival is anything but dull, and it is known for its lively dance processions complete with colorful costumes, upbeat music and of course, plenty of delicious street food.
3. Moriones Festival
Moriones festival is characterised by the masks that are worn by the hundreds of people, both men and women, who dress up as Roman soldiers or Mariones to act out the story of the crucifixion. Marinduque, located in Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines, is well-known for this festival and attracts thousands of visitors every year, who come to watch the parade, show off their own homemade masks, scare children and play tricks on passersby.
4. Flores de Mayo
This is a festival you can enjoy no matter what part of the Philippines you are visiting as it is held nationwide and lasts for the entire month of May. During this time, churches and parishes are decorated with flowers by the town’s people, who will often gather in the afternoons for prayers, singing, dancing and snacks. The celebration’s highlight is the Santa Cruzan, a procession that takes place on the last Sunday of the May. It's a beauty pageant of sorts and all the most beautiful girls are usually selected to join the parade.
5. San Pedro Cutud Lenten Rites
Held during Holy Week in Pampanga City, San Pedro Cutud Lenten Rites is not one of the Philippines’ most cheerful of festivals, as it involves a reenactment of Christ’s Passion and Death. The bizarre reenactment is performed by locals, some of whom are penitents carrying out self-flagellations with spiked leather thongs and bamboo sticks as they trail the main penitent or “Christ” who must carry a wooden cross up the hill. Once “Calvary” has been reached, three or more penitents are actually nailed to crosses and left out until they feel they have been sufficiently cleansed from sin.
6. Kadayawan Festival
Kadayawan is a one-week festival in August that takes place in Davao City, the Philippine’s second largest city after Manila. Although it isn’t one of the country’s most traditional celebrations, having first emerged in the 80s, it is one of the most joyous festivals to attend, as it celebrates life and gives thanks to Mother Nature for a bountiful harvest.
7. Masskara Festival
Every year in October, the Masskara festival takes place in Bacolod City. This festival in particular attracts plenty of tourists, as it is a time when locals are able to forget about the hardships of their lives by eating good food, drinking beer and dancing in the streets for a total of 20 days. The name comes from the English word “mass” and the Spanish word “cara” which means face, thus it became the festival of many faces.
About the author: Tess Pajaron is part of the team behind Open Colleges, Australia's provider of TAFE courses equivalent and tourism courses. She has travelled to many different countries and loves to explore.
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