United Colors of Philippines: Pahiyas, the fiesta that celebrates Filipino identity

Mikaela Robino Aquino

In the Philippines, a lively religious celebration known as the Pahiyas Festival is observed in Lucban, Quezon every 15th of May. Historically, the festival is observed to show gratitude for a bountiful harvest in May and Filipinos would gather at the foot of Mt. Banahaw with their harvests in hand to offer thanksgiving to God. In the month of May, it is the “fiesta to end all fiestas.” During Spanish times, the festival became a religious feast and was dedicated to San Isidro Labrador, the patron saint of farmers. During the festival, people would be dressed in beautiful, colorful costumes while they parade and perform. Even the houses would be decorated with vivid designs made from vegetable produce, colored palay and kiping, which are leaf-shaped wafers made of glutinous rice.

In Quezon area, the programs include singing contests, dancing and even battle of the bands, which would then be followed up with concerts. As for those who desire much more physical activity, the festival has carabao races and palosebo – a traditional Filipino game in which players compete to see who can climb the highest up a slippery bamboo pole to get the prize. There are also activities that involve hands-on participation like learning how to make kiping, or how to peel coconuts.

The word ‘pahiyas’ was derived from the word ‘payas’, which means decoration or to decorate. The reason behind such practice dates back to the 15th century, when farmers used to offer their harvests at the foot of Mount Banahaw.

In Macao, an association of residents from Lucban was formed primarily to bring the Pahiyas Festival to the former Portuguese colony. The association hosted the first Pahiyas Festival in Macao in the year 2003. This year, the festival was celebrated on May 29th. It would have been a grand and joyful celebration, but due to Covid-19 still lingering, it was celebrated on a minimal scale. The celebration was enjoyed by all Filipinos and some guests who were present during the Mass. Despite the present pandemic situation, people are thankful for their good health, the blessings that they received for their families and the jobs they still have at present.

The annual celebration of the festival in Macao aims to give a cultural and religious appreciation and representation of Filipino culture to the local residents. This year will be the 20th anniversary of the Pahiyas Festival. The festival indeed brings the Filipino community together, letting them feel happy, blessed and united. It has given the younger generations of Filipinos born in Macao a sense of belonging, and a culture with which they can identify, helping them stay in touch with the roots of their historical identity.

(Image: Pahiyas in Lucban 2022. Photo Credit: Beth Zarate)