Philippine Fiesta Guide for Seniors

Posters and tarpaulins on the wall, banderitas strung high above across the streets, lechon roasting over a fire… there’s no sight as familiar and timeless in the Philippines, it’s fiesta time.

Fiestas (feast days or festivals) date back to Spanish colonial times, celebrating the various saints and religious images that the Spaniards introduced to us during their 333-year rule over us. Many of the said saints and images became the inspiration for the names of many a town and barangay.

Today, fiesta celebrations continue in the Philippines because of our strong sense of community and religious beliefs. Who doesn’t love a big party like Filipinos? Whether it’s a barangay/town-wide celebration or a simple procession of a figure, Pinoys know how to make a fiesta worth the while.

There are so many popular fiestas that ring around the country all year round, it would be hard to list them all down. But well-aged senior citizens, who have witnessed fiestas year after year, still want to take part in community-wide celebrations. So here’s a list of well-known fiestas in the Philippines, and some ways older Filipinos can be involved in the annual festivities.

Translacion | Photo by Noel Celis

Feast of the Black Nazarene (January 9)
The Black Nazarene, or Hesus Nazareno, is one of the most popular images of Jesus Christ in the Philippines. The feast celebrates the arrival of the image to Quiapo, Manila from Mexico (better known as Translacion). Every January 9, the image of the Black Nazarene is taken on a procession around Quiapo, drawing millions of people to join in (hence usually being announced as a holiday in Manila).

A common belief among the Manila and Filipino faithful is that touching the image or wiping it a cloth will absorb the healing powers of the Nazareno. For many senior citizens who are suffering from chronic illnesses and diseases, this a great opportunity to be blessed and healed (we advise caution though as the procession gets crowded and long, you may be injured trying to get to the image).

Sto. Niño de Cebu | Photo by Juan Carlo de Vela

Sinulog Festival – Feast of the Santo Nino (3rd Sunday of January)
An even more popular image of Christ is that of the Santo Niño (the Child Jesus). The image is replicated all over the country, but the original statuette can be found in Cebu. And at the heart of the Feast of the Santo Niño is the Sinulog Festival, better known today for its street parties drawing more than a million people to Cebu.

Sinulog gets its name from the Cebuano word sulog meaning “moving like the water current,” a movement that perfectly describes the Sinulog dance performed for the Santo Niño. Cebuanos or Filipinos from older generations help continue the tradition of Sinulog by teaching the dance to young kids (after all this a celebration dedicated to child). This means more fun bonding time with grandchildren! By keeping the tradition alive, especially with a Cebuano song and candle-lighting, the relevance of the Santo Niño lives on.

Moriones Festival (Holy Week)
On the island of Marinduque, part of the Holy Week celebrations is the Moriones Festival. The festival gets its name from the “moriones,” people dressed as the Roman soldiers present during the Crucifixion. These people in costume re-enact the story of Saint Longinus, a blind centurion who gained his eyesight when the blood Christ fell upon his eyes when Jesus was pierced by a spear.

For one whole week, the moriones dress in costumes and “look for Longinus”, but often poke fun at each other and scare little children with their clever designs. This a great opportunity for senior citizens to play with their grandchildren, a decorative game of tag. But if the kids are easily scared, they can instead help out in painting the beautiful moriones masks, and scare the kids’ friends.

Aliwan Fiesta | Photo by Manila Bulletin via Facebook

Aliwan Fiesta (April/May)
This is the fiesta for all fiestas. A project organized by the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the Aliwan Fiesta gathers the different fiestas and festivals around the country in Pasay City to compete in a beauty pageant, dance parade, and float competition (among other side events). Aliwan seems the appropriate name as it means “entertainment,” which the fiesta wishes to showcase to the whole world.

People all around the Philippines are invited to represent their region through their hometown fiesta, with prize money often at stake and of course bragging rights to being the best fiesta of the year. It’s a great opportunity for the older generations to explore the more obscure festivals of the country, while having the option to celebrate those they know and are a part of. Nothing beats the biggest fiesta of them all.

Santacruzan | (Photo by Michael Varcas)

Flores de Mayo (May)
This month-long festival held during May celebrates the Blessed Virgin Mary, the literal translation being “the flowers of May.” And right at the end is the immensely popular Santacruzan, a procession best remembered by the characters of Reyna Elena and Constantine. A pageant is held to decide who gets the title of the two, as well as the the different versions of Mary and biblical figures.

The pageant gets a little heated often because parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents want their daughter/niece/granddaughter chosen as the Reyna Elena, or a well-known Marian figure. The process of making the beautiful dresses and adorned crowns of the Santacruzan characters will certainly bring the family together, made better by the competitive spirit. But admittedly, seeing your granddaughter ending the procession after being named “the most beautiful in the community” is sure to bring tears to your eyes.

MassKara Festival | Photo by Tara Yap

MassKara Festival (Fourth Sunday of October)
The festival is a play-on-words for maskara (masks), with “mass” meaning a great amount people and “cara” being the Spanish word for “face.” It seems right that Bacolod, the City of Smiles, be the home for a festival dedicated to masks. The MassKara Festival also brings the community together with a beauty pageant and a street dance competition, with other events depending on the annual theme.

Numerous mask designs have adorned the festival since its inception in 1980, ranging from feather designs, sequin and beaded decorations, bright colors, and more. Creativity can flow from anyone in the making of these masks, even from senior citizens, Mask designs can be as traditional as native Filipinos or modern types filled with LED lights. It’s never too late for older generations to have a dab at being artistic and creating their own masks.

Giant Lantern Festival | Photo by Jun Ryan Arañas

Giant Lantern Festival (Mid-December)
The Philippines becomes a whole new different place during Christmas, even more so in San Fernando, Pampanga — the so-called “Christmas Capital of the Philippines.” As part of their Yuletide festivities, the city holds the Giant Lantern Festival which is a competition of… you guessed it, giant lanterns.
What started with small lanterns grew over the years as to who could create most beautifully decorated giant parol, with different barangays coming together to help win the competition. Because there is no given age limit to participants, senior citizens may join teams in the creation of the giant lanterns — they could be a lead lantern-maker if they want to!

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