A deeper dive into Filipino culture through their holidays

You can understand people more by learning their history. And there’s no better way to find out about a country’s history than by looking at their holidays, festivals, and celebrations. The Philippines is no exception. With over 50 holidays throughout the year, Filipino culture is evident through their annual celebrations. A predominantly Christian country with friendly people who are considered some of the happiest in the world, besides Christmas and New Year, what are other important holidays in the Philippines?

January

  • New Year’s Day (1 January): This is a celebration of the new year, and many Filipinos get the day off to recover from the Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. Regular work normally commences a day or two after this holiday.
  • Festival of the Black Nazarene (9 January): As a testament to the importance of Christianity in the Philippines, the Festival of the Black Nazarene started with a life-sized statue of Jesus carrying the cross which was initially light but many believe to have turned dark after a fire on a ship from Mexico. On this day, the statue is taken from its resting place in the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo for a procession that begins with a Holy Mass at the Quirino Grandstand in Rizal Park. Afterward, the statue is put on a cart back to Quiapo. It is carried by barefoot penitents who wear maroon. Several million devotees take part in this procession.
  • Ati-Atihan (third week of January): This is a week-long Mardi Gras style celebration that originated in the 13th century. It is a celebration of Santo Nino or the Holy Child Jesus. This celebration includes colorful costumes, dancing, and painting of one’s body in dark colors.
  • Sinulog Festival (third Sunday of January): This is a thanksgiving celebration that occurs in Cebu City and is one of the largest festivals to honor Santo Niño and recognize the acceptance of Christianity. The main event includes a shuffling dance prayer, which is carried out in a grand parade by participants who are dressed in bright costumes.
  • Dinagyang Festival (fourth Sunday of January): Taking place in Iloilo City, participants wear black paint and tribal warrior wear who dance, chant, stomp, and beat drums to honor Jesus and Christianity.

February

  • Panagbenga Flower Festival (February): This festival is three-days long and takes place in Baguio City. Participants dress in colorful costumes and celebrate what is referred to as the “growing season” or “the season of blooming”. The festival includes a parade of floats decorated with flowers.
  • Hot Air Balloon Fiesta: Hot air balloons are flown in the skies over Angeles City, Pampanga. This event has become the longest-running sports aviation event on the continent.
  • EDSA Revolution Anniversary (25 February): The EDSA Revolution, also known as the People Power Revolution in 1986, signaled the end of Martial Law in the Philippines and gave way to democracy.
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March

  • Malasimbo Music and Arts Festival (10-12 March): This is an ideal opportunity for young and old to get together and enjoy some music including jazz, soul, reggae, and other art exhibitions.
  • Holy Week: This is one of the most important religious events in the Philippines. It takes place between March and April, and every parish has a number of activities that guide the faithful in the observance of the final period in the life of Jesus Christ including processions and masses.
  • Good Friday (March 29): This entails the observation of Semana Santa (Holy Week). During this celebration, Filipino Roman Catholics stay at home to perform their religious duties from Maundy Thursday until Easter Sunday.
  • Black Saturday (30 March): This is a religious holiday when Filipinos observe the day after the death of Christ before his resurrection on Easter Morning.
  • Easter Sunday: This is a joyful celebration where some parishes in the provinces would re-enact the imagined first meeting of Jesus and Mary after the resurrection.

April

  • Moriones Festival: Taking place on the island of Marinduque, the Moriones Festival sees men and women wearing costumes and masks depicting the biblical Roman soldiers who escorted and flogged Jesus on the way to his crucifixion.
  • Araw ng Kagitingan (April 9): This is a holiday that is also known as Corregidor Day, Bataan Day, or ‘Day of Valor’. It commemorates the surrender of thousands of Filipino, American, and Chinese-Filipino soldiers to the Japanese forces during World War II. Thousands of soldiers and civilians died during the tragic Death March, starting in Bataan and ending in Tarlac.
  • Battle of Mactan (27 April): The island of Mactan in Cebu celebrates the victory of Lapu-Lapu over Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan.

May

  • Labor Day (1 May): Labor Day in the Philippines takes place during International Workers Day.
  • Flores de Mayo: Meaning “flowers of May”, is a month-long festival that is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
  • Pahiyas Festival (15 May): Taking place in Lucban, Quezon, the San Isidro Pahiyas Festival is celebrated. Pahiyas essentially means “to decorate” and the people of Lucban would decorate their houses with all kinds of beautiful fruits, vegetables, grains and produce.
  • Manggahan Festival: The island province of Guimaras stands out for producing one of the sweetest mangoes in the world and has been called the “Mango Capital of the Philippines”. As a result, the province celebrates this with a fun-filled Mango Festival every May that lasts for about two weeks.
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June

  • Independence Day (12 June): This is a celebration of the Philippines which were freed from Spanish rule in 1898. This day has been observed as a nationwide holiday since 1962 and parades are held in the streets.
  • Pintados Festival: This is a religious-cultural festival, which sees dancers wearing colorful and luminous body paint. The festivities culminate with a street dancing competition participated by dance troupes all over the country.

July

  • Sandugo Festival: This festival is an annual celebration in the island of Bohol to commemorate the friendship between Datu Sikatuna, a chieftain in Bohol, and Spanish conquistador Miguel López de Legazpi. In 1565, both leaders had signed a peace treaty through a blood compact.

August

  • Kadayawan sa Dabaw (third week of August): The city of Davao in Mindanao celebrates its bountiful harvests and harmony of different cultures. The name of the Festival comes from “Madayaw,” a warm and friendly greeting in the local dialect that’s used to explain a thing that is valuable, superior, beautiful, good, or profitable. This festival is a showcase of the region’s culture and history. It is marked by a parade of floral floats, a street dancing competition, and exhibits that show the fruits of nature.
  • Ninoy Aquino Day (21 August): Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Sr. was one of the catalysts for the world-famous EDSA Revolution and it is during this holiday during which Filipinos remember the day he was assassinated.
  • National Heroes Day (last Monday of August): There are a wide number of heroes in the Philippines due to their contribution to Filipino independence from Spanish, American, and Japanese rule.

September

  • Tuna Festival (first week of September): General Santos City holds a Tuna Festival every first week of September. A tuna float parade is held, as is a triathlon, a dragon boat race, and a grill street where people line up their grills and cook hundreds of kilos of tuna.

October

  • Lanzones Festival (every third week of October): Lanzones is a tropical fruit that’s smaller than a ping pong ball. In the town of Mambajao, which is the capital of Camiguin, the weekend is full of activities like a street dancing competition, cultural shows, a parade, a beauty pageant, and trade fairs.
  • Masskara Festival (fourth Sunday of October): This is a colorful festival hosted by Bacolod City in the Negros Occidental province. Translates as the ‘festival of many smiles’, it celebrates the strength of the human spirit in times of adversity. A key component is a street dance competition with participants wearing richly decorated smiling masks. Other events include carnivals, a beauty pageant, music competitions, food, sports, concerts, and a garden show.
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November

  • All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day (2 November): This holiday gives time for Filipinos to visit their dead to pay their respects. During these two days, Filipinos go home to their provinces. Cemeteries and areas close to them experience heavy traffic. Filipino families head to the churches and cemeteries to remember the saints and their loved ones who have passed away.
  • Bonifacio Day (30 November): Andres Bonifacio is known as the Father of the Philippine Revolution. On this day, some school children dress in white shirts, pants, and red neckerchiefs as a tribute to the hero.

December

Philippines

  • Misa de Gallo (16 December): The celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ officially begins on 16 December. This is the start of the nine-day dawn masses called Misa de Gallo or Rooster’s Mass. Many believe that going to mass for these nine consecutive days will mean that God will grant their wish.
  • Christmas (25 December): The Philippines has the longest Christmas season in the world. It runs from mid-December through to the first week of January. Festivities start with a series of Midnight Masses (Simbang Gabi), leading up to a Christmas Eve feast at midnight followed by Christmas Day. It is a big family celebration which is marked by eating, drinking and gift-giving. Traditional star-shaped bamboo lanterns are displayed in many places, symbolizing the Star of Bethlehem.
  • Innocents’ Day (28 December): This is the Filipino version of April Fool’s Day. People spend the day playing pranks on each other.
  • Rizal Day (30 December): This is in commemoration of Jose P. Rizal, who was executed in Bagumbayan, now known as Rizal Park. Rizal was a scholar who believed in the potential of the youth and in the power of words to change a nation.
  • New Year’ Eve (31 December): Most, if not all, Filipinos hold a reunion party and celebrate the end of the old year and the beginning of the new one.

Conclusion

With a festival or celebration each month of the year, it’s no surprise that Filipinos are such happy people. Deeply ingrained in their culture is their independence from Spanish rule as well as their religion. These are the two most celebrated aspects in the Philippines, but there are many other smaller festivals that are light-hearted and bring joy to many. If you’re wondering how something like Asian languages can affect a country, simply look at their culture, history, and celebrations and you’ll see what impact it has had.