With lots of developed agricultural land, the Philippines isn’t shy about celebrating bountiful harvests throughout the year. There are several festivals in many different provinces that create a spectacle from harvest season, but none more popular than the Pahiyas Festival. As one of the country’s most colorful festivals, the Pahiyas season brings hundreds of visitors to the humble town of Lucban in Quezon every 15th of May.
As with many of the Philippines’ festivals, the core of this celebration in thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest. During this time, the town also honors its patron saint, San Isidro de Labrador. There are many activities lined up, making the Pahiyas Festival one of the most vibrant harvest festivals in the country.
San Isidro de Labrador is the patron saint of farmers across the country. It is to him that farmers owe their harvests to, and it is also him to which farmers pray if the year is looking glum. The tradition dates back to the 15th century when farmers used to offer their harvests at the foot of Mt. Banahaw, known to be the most sacred mountain in the country. As Catholicism took stronger hold, the offerings were transitioned to be done at the Church in honor of San Isidro de Labrador.
At the time, a parish priest would give a blessing for the farmers and the harvest that they brought. As time went on, the Church could no longer accommodate the growing number of farmers and harvest. The town then decided to display their harvests in their houses instead, and the priest goes around the community to provide his blessing.
Thus, the annual festival was born. Pahiyas was derived from “payas”, which means “to decorate”. This became the main draw of the festival – houses decked out in fruits, flowers, vegetables, and the famous kiping – a wafer made of rice and food coloring shaped in the form of a leaf.
What was once a pagan practice has become Catholic, thus the whole festival starts with a Eucharistic Celebration. The thanksgiving mass is held at 6:00 AM at the San Luis Obispo de Tolosa Parish Church. It’s followed by a procession of the saint’s statue and makes a circuit on the streets around the church.
It was first built in 1578 to evangelize the locals of Lucban, and was then elevated as a parish in 1595. It was destroyed in 1629 to be rebuilt in its present location and was completed in 1640. The original structure was made of stone and masonry then covered with nipa, dried grass material common in many rural homes. In 1733, a fire destroyed the church and was then rebuilt in 1738.
The house decorations are also a competition. At the end of the Festival, the winners are announced by the local government. The winners get different prizes every year, but most often would be a cash prize.
It’s also worth visiting at night when the houses are illuminated by mood and Christmas lights. It’s a different look to the whole Festival and the streets remain active and lively well into the night.
No Philippine festival is complete without a parade. At 2:00 PM, the parade starts from the church and goes down the main streets until they do a full circle. There are many attractions within the parade itself, too.
The parade is headed by “Parikitan”, coming from the word “marikit” or beautiful. Local designers create gowns that incorporate the spirit of the Festival, worn by muses from different villages in Lucban. It’s then followed by floats pulled by carabaos or water buffalos. Carabaos are very important to the country’s agricultural industry as the main way to plow fields. Since most farmers in the Philippines lack funds for expensive equipment, farming in the country is still mostly done manually.
Last come the giants, also called “higantes”. These are towering puppets, which was used to be made of papier-mache heads and bamboo frames. The modern higantes of Pahiyas are now made of fiberglass and aluminum frames.
Lucban isn’t just known for its festival. The town is also known for amazing delicacies, most notably the Lucban longganisa – a local sausage characterized by the mix of oregano and garlic with a tangy taste.
Street food is also common fare. Kiping is edible and, aside from being used as decor, it’s also sold on the streets flavored with salt or sugar. A popular snack is pancit habhab, a noodle dish made of flour noodles, topped with countless pieces of meat and vegetables, and eaten from a banana leaf without utensils. For dessert, there’s pilipit, made of squash and deep-fried.
If you prefer sit-down restaurants, there are several iconic spots that serve some of the best local dishes. Center Miki Factory on San Luis street is the main go-to for the best pancit habhab in town. There’s also Mustiola, known as the best eatery in Lucban. They specialize in home-cooked meals at very affordable prices.
Needless to say, a trip to Quezon is worth the effort for Pahiyas Festival. Here are some tips to help make travel easier:
Pahiyas Festival is a fun affair and suitable for the whole family. If you have kids, they will surely enjoy the explosion of color in the town. Either way, this thanksgiving celebration is a time for locals and tourists to mingle and share the town’s special traditions.
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!