Celebrated every May 15, Pahiyas is one of the most colourful festivals in the Philippines. Like numerous of the country’s festivals, it is it is held in honour of a saint; for Pahiyas it is in honour of San Isidro Labrador, the patron saint of farmers (yep, in the Philippines, there’s a patron saint for almost everything).
It is celebrated in Lucban (where it is most popular), Sariaya, Tayabas and other towns in the province of Quezon, south of Manila. Present-day celebrations are said to have evolved from the gift-giving tradition where farmers would present crops to the church as gratitude for a plentiful harvest to displaying the bounty in front of their homes and the parish priest would then walk along the streets to bless each family.
Through the years, the festival has turned into a friendly competition where houses are awarded for their creative displays of their produce and the most popular decoration for the day, the kiping.
Kiping is a colourful leaf-shaped ornament made out for rice flour. These are strung to resemble all kinds of decorations along with fruits, vegetables and the occasional living livestock to complete tableaus along the procession route.
If you plan to join the festivities, here are six tips to help you get the most out of the experience:
1. Be there before everyone else does. Everyone who has been to Pahiyas will advise you to leave Manila early, some as early as 2 a.m. If you are driving, it is good to note that there are very limited parking slots in town and the later you arrive, the longer you will have to walk to the procession route.
If you can, be in Lucban a day before. It gives you the time to witness the preparations and familiarise yourself with the route (it changes every year but always begins and ends in the Lucban church). It gives you also the opportunity to nab a table at the popular Buddy’s Restaurant near the plaza before the rest of the tourists come in the next day. You can choose to stay at a friend’s house if you’re lucky or in one of the hotels/inns in Lucban. You can also try Batis Aramin Hotel and Resort, which is located at the foot of Mt. Banahaw, Brgy. Malupak, Lucban, Quezon. If you do, then you can definetly do Tip #2.
2. Plan a pilgrimage to Kamay ni Hesus. This site is right across Batis Armin and is perfect if you really want to immerse yourself in the Catholic culture of the Philippines. Most pilgrims will climb a small hill to pray and reflect on the 14 Stations of the Cross. If it is your first time there, some elders say that when you visit the church, you can make a wish when you pray and it will be granted.
3. Bring protection from nature’s elements. Pack some sunscreen and an umbrella. The day can get sweltering hot and you wouldn’t want to get sunburnt. You can also rely on your trusty umbrella if it rains as there have been occasions when the Pahiyas celebrations have seen a bit of downpour.
4. Pick comfort over fashion. Whether it comes to clothes or footwear, choose what you can wear for a day of exploring under the tropical sun. Also, bring an extra shirt.
5. Enjoy the feast in more ways than one. Pahiyas is a feast for the senses. Aside from the overload of colour you’ll see from the brightly decorated houses, your taste buds also get a treat from the town’s famous pancit habhab (stir-fried noodle dish traditionally served on a piece of banana leaf and eaten without any utensils) and the savory Lucban longganisa (garlicky pork sausage), which are widely available on the streets. You also get to sample the hospitality Filipinos are known for as some families will invite you into their houses.
After Lucban and you still have time, you can explore the other neighbouring towns of Quezon to see how they celebrate this feast day. Check out the town of of Sariaya’s Bagakay "Agawan" sa Sariaya. At 3 p.m., the San Isidro procession starts and each house where the procession passes give away symbols of bountiful harvest to the people. What is unique to this version is the bagakay—tall, young bamboo or trees decorated with giveaways that are said to bow down before the image of San Isidro as he passes by. Or alternatively, you can go to Tayabas where the “Hagisan ng Suman sa Tayabas” also starts at 3 p.m.
6. Take home and share the experience. This is a very photogenic festival so shoot away! It doesn’t take a DSLR camera to take gorgeous memories back home or to share immediately while they happen. All you need is your smart phone and watchful, artful eye (hello, Instagram). Also, it is never too late to learn the art of bringing home some local delicacies and gifts—pasalubong—to your friends and family back home. Two of the popular pasalalubong brands are Abcede and Efren. Happy Fiesta!
All photos by Karla ReyFind more fun in the Philippines: Heritage sites to see