Let's be honest: No one does festivals better than Filipinos. Whether it's a last-minute party for the "birthday boy/girl," or a grand tribute to the local Sto. Niño, Filipinos never fail to surprise as entertainers. Some of the best examples of Filipino entertainment are the festivals below, which you can participate in no matter where you are in the Philippines.
When: Every second Sunday of January
Where: San Joaquin, Iloilo
"Festival" might be a bit of a misnomer for this event, since it's mostly horse fights (pahibag) and bull fights (pasungay). But unlike their counterparts in other countries, these fights are rarely fatal: As long as the animals are able to defeat their opponents according to the rules, their owners are entitled to special prizes.
Lingayen Gulf Festival
When: January 9
Where: Lingayen Gulf, Lingayen, Pangasinan
Back in World War II, Lingayen Gulf was a strategic point for the war between the Japanese and American-Filipino forces. The Japanese initially controlled the gulf, until Gen. Douglas MacArthur's forces drove out the invaders on January 9, 1945. To commemorate the event, a festival is held every year to honor the veterans of the Invasion of Lingayen Gulf.
Feast of the Black Nazarene
When: January 9
Where: Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene, Quiapo, Manila
Being a mostly Catholic country, the Philippines is home to many images of Jesus Christ, one of which is the Black Nazarene. This life-sized, dark-skinned statue of Jesus carrying the cross is taken out of the basilica three times every year: on New Year's Day, on Good Friday, and on January 9. Of the three processions, the one on January 9 — also known as the "Translacion" — attracts the most number of devotees, with many of them tossing their handkerchiefs at the Black Nazarene in the hope of attracting good health and fortune.
When: Every second week of January
Another well-known image of Jesus Christ is the Sto. Niño of Romblon. Believed to protect the aforementioned province, the Sto. Niño is venerated through a fluvial procession, where the statue makes seven rounds at sea. The statue was stolen in 1991 during the renovation of its home cathedral, but eventually found its way back, reinforcing the belief of the locals that the Sto. Niño doesn't want to leave the island.
When: Every third Sunday of January
Where: Pagadian City, Zamboanga del Sur
To celebrate the founding of Pagadian City, the Zambulawan or Pesalamat Festival is held by the local Subanon group. Here, the Subanons showcase their cultural heritage through songs, dances, and playing musical instruments.
When: Every third week of January
Where: Kalibo, Aklan
Pictured above is the Ati-Atihan, one of the most famous festivals in the Philippines. With their distinctively colorful costumes and black-painted bodies, Ati-Atihan's participants dance around town and chant "Hala bira!" to honor the local Sto. Niño. The festival lasts for a week, and ends on the third Sunday of the month.
When: Every third week of January
Like Ati-Atihan, Sinulog is a Christian festival with a Filipino twist. Commemorating the time when the Rajah of Cebu allowed Christianity into his domain, the nine-day festival includes a procession, a street dancing competition, and a grand fluvial parade. Because it's considered one of the biggest and grandest festivals in the Philippines, Sinulog attracts at least a million local and foreign attendees every year.
When: Every fourth Sunday of January
Where: Iloilo City, Iloilo
Can't get enough of January festivals in the Visayas? Head over to the Dinagyang Festival in Iloilo. Like its counterparts in Aklan and Cebu, the Dinagyang Festival honors the local Sto. Niño, plus the arrival of Malay settlers on the island of Panay. With dancers in colorful costumes, breathtaking exhibitions, and the merrymaking atmosphere, this festival is sure to be worthy of an Instagram pic or two.
When: Every fourth week of January
Where: Donsol, Sorsogon
The Apribada Festival is unique in that it honors not a town/city or religious figure, but an animal — specifically, Donsol's famous butanding (whale shark). The locals believe that the butanding brings blessings and prosperity to the town, so they parade replicas of the animal around town, and even dress up in whale shark costumes, to impress on the viewers that the shark needs to be protected.
When: Every last Sunday of January
Where: Makati City
Of course, this list won't be complete if we don't mention a single festival from Makati (which is what this blog is all about!). Dubbed the "Mardi Gras of the Philippines," the Caracol Festival highlights the importance of protecting Mother Earth through nature-themed parades, dances, and other extravaganzas. You can check out a previous installment of the Caracol Festival here.
Where else can visitors (Filipinos or otherwise) have the fun this January 2017? Type your answers in the comments!