The Philippines is a festival country. Every province in every region finds a reason to celebrate almost everything – from the religious feasts to customary traditions, to just about anything that can be celebrated. You’ve probably heard about Bangus Festival of Dagupan, Pangasinan, which celebrates the staple produce of the province – milkfish or bangus. How about the Flower Festival of Panagbenga in the country’s summer capital, Baguio? This celebrates the bountiful flower harvests which is one of the big income earners in the city.
In Lucban, Quezon, south of Luzon, Pahiyas Festival is gaining popularity not just from the townsfolks of Quezon, but even residents from the metropolitan cities, find their way to join the colorful feast celebrated every 15th of May. The celebration is in honor of San Isidro Labrador, the patron saint of farmers. The farmers of Lucban, Quezon express their thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest with a grand display of colorful rice wafers, fruits, vegetables, and handicrafts adorning every house in the town.
Pahiyas Festival is an ancient celebration dating back to the 16th century. Legends have it that San Isidro Labrador magically plowed the field every time he went out of the church. This story was passed on by the Spaniards to the Filipinos during the colonial period. The word “pahiyas” means “precious offering” as connoted by the root word “hiyas” which means “jewel”. Since then, the people of Lucban and nearby towns and provinces excitedly await the summer month of May when Pahiyas Festival is held.
Every year, May 15th is marked in the calendar as a day of merriment in Quezon. The streets of historic Lucban come to life and vibrant colors as people adorn their houses with local agricultural harvests – fruits, vegetables, rice grains, rice stalks, flowers and ferns. Additionally, colorful rice wafers locally called “kiping” are arranged in two or three layers of chandeliers. Kiping is made from rice dough and the local residents use different kinds of leaves to add flavor and color to the thin wafers.
The festival’s highlight is a procession on the streets of Lucban where the image of San Isidro Labrador is carried by devotees as people eagerly await the passing of the image. The procession features a pair of giant paper mache figures of a farmer and his wife, which lead the procession, and followed by the images of San Isidro Labrador and Sta. Maria de la Cabeza, who carries a basket with “triangulo biscuits”, distributed to the children during the procession. The celebration’s culminating event is a grand food sharing among the residents and the guests.
Part of the festival is an annual competition which chooses the best decorated house. After the competition, the decorations (agricultural produce) from the winning house are thrown away to the huge crowd as free treats. The kipings adorning the other houses will be cooked and eaten as rice chips. During the procession, people display their harvest in front of their houses so that the parish priest can bless them when the procession passes by their street.
Pahiyas Festival is the people of Lucban’s way of saying “thank you” for a bountiful harvest.