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Philippines shines with festive colours

Philippines, festivals, party, paradise, merrymaking

The Philippines is one big party paradise. And that's putting it mildly. The archipelagic nation has an amusing concoction of festivals, celebrations and parties in all its 7,107 islands that an article in an international publication called the Philippines a one big carnival of sorts.

Revelry of merry-making

Indeed, the calendar of Philippine festivities is an exhilarating collection of revelries and special events. Every month offers various celebrations on every town and city. And the myriad of activities available is an eclectic array: from awe-inspiring fluvial processions and grand street merry-makings to thrilling whale shark watching and trekking along majestic countryscapes.

The Filipino penchance for the grand and the colourful may have been due to the intermingling of lively pagan rituals and fiery Spanish customs. This can be seen in festivals like the Ati-Atihan whose variants are scattered all over the country. Last month, Aklanons staged their annual Ati-Atihan known the world over. It’s a celebration in honour of Sto. Niño in which people in black paint and colourful costumes take it to the streets and dance uninhibitedly to the drum beats.

Festivals dedicated to the boy Jesus is common throughout the country like the Sinulog in Cebu also held every January and the Sto. Niño Festival in Hagonoy, Bulacan on the third week of February. Other similar festivals which feature colorful masks and dancing are the Pintados Festival in Tacloban City, Leyte held every June and the Masskara Festival of Bacolod held every October.

The grotesque and the holy

As a largely Catholic country, religious celebrations no doubt make up more than half of all festivals with the many town fiestas usually centered on a patron saint. But people from all faiths can enjoy these events as most activities tend to have non-sectarian color like the traditional palo sebo in which a tall bamboo pole is greased up and boys attempt to climb up to reach for the prize money. And foreigners have been known to troop to the banks of Naga river in Bicol to witness the maddening crowd participating in the fluvial parade of Our Lady of Peñafrancia held every September.

Of course, the Semana Santa or Holy Week in April should not be forgotten. This weeklong commemoration of the passion and death of Jesus Christ, culminating in the Senaculo at Good Friday, is a major event in the country however sombre. Probably the most grotesque event is the procession in Pampanga where men walk under the scorching sun as they lash their bare backs with whips as a symbolic gesture for the atonement of their sins.

The Moriones Festival in Marinduque province is an engaging re-enactment of the story of Longinus. The entire towns of Boac, Mogpog and Gasan are virtually converted into huge stages for the masked soldiers and colourfully garbed centurions. In Leyte, native carabaos and horses are rounded up in a traditional joust called Turugpo ha Camansi held during Black Saturdays.

Sizzling hot fun

Events of a secular nature also abound. With the summer season just around the corner, adventurers can expect some hard-hitting and knuckle-busting actions in major sports gatherings. On the second Sunday of March, outriggers race across the strait between Iloilo and Guimaras Island. Called Paraw Regatta, sailing enthusiasts and sports photographers witness colorful paraws “fly” above the waves.

As an archipelago, the country offers various water sports to local and foreign thrill-seekers. There’s the White Water River Rafting Competition at the rapids of Bukidnon in Northern Mindanao held every third week of March and the Siargo International Surfing Cup at Siargo Island held every October. If a visitor gets tired of the water, the mountains and the caves offer a different kind of high.

The Mt. Apo Eco-Challenge, organized by the Department of Tourism Region 12 and held every October 23, is a rock climbing event at the country’s tallest peak. At Cagayan, a Caving and Mountaineering Congress gathers trekkers every March to explore a few of the 300 cave systems in the area. In the windy fields of Cebu, kite flyers display their gigantic masterpieces at the biggest competition called Bears in Flight sponsored by a multinational milk company. Outdoor lovers won’t have difficulty looking for activities they can participate in during summer.

Let Mother Nature bloom

May is probably the month with the most festivities. The perennial favorite is the Santacruzan celebrated throughout the country and the most popular is the star-studded one held at Intramuros, Manila. The festival is a commemoration of the search of Emperor Constantine and his mother Queen Helena for the Holy Cross. Down south in Bicolandia, Santacruzan parades are major attractions during the Magayon Festival of Albay, Magayon is the Bikol word for beautiful.

At this month too, flower festivals are held left and right, most of them coinciding with the Santacruzan, making the entire occasion a truly colorful celebration like the Bulaklakan sa Gensan held at General Santos City in Southern Mindanao. Up north in Luzon is the Baguio Flower Festival that can rival event the grandest Parade of Roses at California.

The Philippines, being a tropical country, is blessed with fertile soil and as such is home to a flourishing flora and fauna. And Filipinos also have festivals celebrating the abundance of Mother Nature which reflect their unique affinity with the treasures around them. There’s the Pineapple Festival at Daet, Camarines Sur, and the Mango Congress at Cebu and Guimaras. There are also a number of festivals centring on the versatile coconut like the Coconut Festival in San Pablo held every January. Other crops that are given special events are strawberries (Benquet), onion (Nueva Ecija), banana (Oriental Mindoro) and lanzones (Camiguin).

Ethnicity and nationhood

When June comes in, the merry-making continues notwithstanding the start of the rainy and school season. And there is an eclectic assortment of festivities, from the Buklog wherein Subanens of Dipolog dance atop a man-made three-meter wooden structure to appease the spirits of their ancestors to the commemoration of the Christianization of the Itawes in Cagayan called Piat Sambali.

If you’re wondering why there are so many festivals associated with ethnic groups, it’s because of the geographic trait of the country which perpetrated for centuries the survival of distinct communities that accounts for the various subcultures they have come to know and identify themselves with.

But the event that the entire nation can probably identify with is the Independence Day celebration on July 12, the day the flag of the Philippines was raised in Kawit, Cavite 105 years ago. On this day (and even days before and after), the Metro Manila-based government puts together a grand program publicized in all media establishments. Nevertheless, cities and municipalities outside the capital also hold celebrations that are either completely independent from or in conjunction with that of the Manila celebration.

Party mania

As with all other peoples, Filipinos cherish their freedom so much that almost all historical events especially battles are commemorated. There’s the Battle of Bessang Pass in Ilocos Norte on June 14 which led to the surrender of General Yamashita and the end of the Japanese Occupation. Re-enactments abound too like the Homonhon Landing of Fernando Magallanes on March 16 and the Balangiga Victory of the Filipinos over the American troops in Samar on September 28.

Historical celebrations like these need the direct involvement of local government units as much as religious events need the guidance of the parishes. This influence of the LGUs is especially seen in festivals celebrating the founding of the various towns, cities, provinces or regions. In Butuan at Agusan del Norte, people celebrate the establishment of the city charter on the Adlaw Hong Butuan while the entire province of Sorsogon become one big party venue during the Kasanggayahan Festival from October 10 to 17.

By now, you may have realized the inexhaustible talent of the Filipino for celebrating every imaginable event from the gargantuan to the minute. And size or importance doesn’t matter, every celebration is grand be it the usual or the strange. Take for example the surrealistic Tawo-Tawo Festival in Negros wherein gigantic scarecrows are paraded as people dance along, the playful Obando Fertility Rites in Bulacan where childless couple go to or the ghoulish Taong Putik of Nueva Ecija where devotees of St. John the Baptist cover their bodies with mud and dried leaves.

Beauty in variety

While the Filipino passion for festivities doesn’t seem to know any boundaries, not all celebrations cater to the worldly desire for fun. Communities all throughout the country also come up with programs or events aimed at raising the civic consciousness of its populace like cleanliness and beautification drives, and environmental protection campaigns like tree planting. What is truly fun though on these events are the side highlights like small skits presented by young people.

And as a country of multi-cultural ethnicity, an entire year of celebrations wouldn’t be complete if there weren’t festivities identified with other cultures. There’s the Chinese Lunar Year celebration, an event which many Filipinos have come to embrace for its spectacular fireworks, lively Dragon dances and the sumptuous Chinese cuisine. Don’t forget the Eid Al`fitr and Eid Mubarak of the Muslim Filipinos down south, which are celebrations marking the ending of the Ramadan and the Hajj season, respectively.

There are events too of international appeal which attracts foreigners and locals alike. In Las Piñas City, there’s the Bamboo Organ Festival featuring international classical music performers utilizing the legendary bamboo organ of St. Joseph’s Parish Church. In Masbate of the Bicol Province, the Rodeo Filipino can be likened to rodeo shows in the US Midwest or Latin America with activities like bull riding, steer wrestling, calf roping, lassoing on foot, casting down large cattle, and wood chopping.

A whole year of banderitas

Indeed, an imaginary string of banderitas (colourful trimmings) can be wrapped around the Philippines to represent a year-full of celebrations. And we haven’t even talked about the festivals of the Christmas season yet. You may have already known that they have the longest Christmas season in the world, starting as early as October and lasting until February. The spirit of the season could not be contained that you can hear people greeting “Merry Christmas” even during the grim-funny Halloween Night and the deliriously-funny All Souls’ Day.

For devoted Catholics though, the official Christmas season begins at the first Advent Sunday which marks the start of the Simbang Gabi. Friends, lovers, families flock to churches to hear the late night or early morning mass before enjoying hot chocolate and puto bumbong. And the surrounding is really a sight to behold with the multi-colored blinking lights of lanterns. For this, LGUs have started hosting Christmas lantern, tree and other Christmas symbols festivals. In Tangub City, indigenous materials are used to create Christmas symbols to be later displayed in an event. Of course, there’s also the Giant Lantern Festival in San Fernando, Pampanga which this year will feature the largest lantern to be ever built.

Indeed, the Filipinos love to party and they party like no other people can. While the trend in western countries like America is to party in one big swoop after toiling at work for a significant time, in a society like the Philippines, every occasion becomes a cause for a celebration and so everyday is a holiday. This may appal non-members of the society but festivities like these merely reflect the Filipinos’ zest for life and their unwavering capacity to laugh at life’s hardships.

Mabuhay ka Pinoy! Mabuhay ang Pinas!
Published: 2009-01-14
Author: Royce Ambrocio

About the author or the publisher
The author has been writing professionally for 10 years now across various industries: TV, print, advertising, and online commerce. He has done scripts for TV, feature articles in magazines and newspapers and copywriting for consumer, tranport and service companies.

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