The scattered rains and gloomy skies continue to loom that Sunday afternoon as we head to Lucban, Quezon coming from our stay at slopes Mt Banahaw. It was May 15, 2022, the day of feast of San Isidro Labrador, the patron saint of farmers and animals. A day celebrated by many towns in Quezon province like Tiaong, Sariaya, Gumaca, Lucena and Tayabas. Each town has their own way of celebrating but Lucban’s Pahiyas Festival though has adored many due to its colorfully decorated houses and festive atmosphere. For the past two years, the pandemic has halted the celebration. This time, no amount of rain can dampen the festivity.
Festival Amidst Pandemic
It was in 2009 when I last attended the Pahiyas Festival. It has always been a crowd drawer and over the years had become very commercial. The pandemic however kept all national festivities to a halt for two years. With the pandemic situation starting to get better tourism gradually opening up, the idea of being in a festival is a step close to a sense of normalcy. Especially for us Filipinos who loves festivals.
The opening of the Pahiyas Festival was a welcome development, but not without careful measures. Online registration for visitors were urged, though there were also walk-in lanes when we came. Vaccination Cards, valid IDs and temperature checks were required upon entry in Lucban. There were marshals roaming the area to remind people to wear their face masks properly. Social distancing is encouraged but seemed impossible in this scenario.
The Pahiyas Festival Beginnings
Colorful leaf-shaped wafers called “kiping” are used to adorn most of the house facades during the Pahiyas. They are made of rice grains and are edible. Agricultural produce were neatly decorated into a miniature display called “anok”. The chandelier-like decorations hanging at house facades are called “araña”. All these decorative practice is the heart of Pahiyas which came from the word “payas” which means to decorate.
At the end of the day, the exciting part of the festival is the “kalas”, a procession where visitors would attempt to take down some of the decorations of the house and the house owners would try to stop them. Kalas is also a local word which means “to dismantle”.
The festivity started as early as 15th century. During those times, farmers would bring their produce at the church to have their harvest blessed. Eventually, with bountiful harvest, Lucban church could no longer accommodate the produce being brought to the church. The parish decided to just have the harvest displayed at the front of their houses the priest would do their rounds to bless each of them.
Creatively Adorned Houses
We parked at a nearby subdivision as vehicles are not allowed at the street route of the parade and where participating houses with displays are located. It’s also a strategic location where we can easily leave the premise after attending the festival.
I felt a little giddy as after two years we have an actual face-to-face festival happening! I could hear drumbeats and musicians performing as we approach the streets where houses are adorned. There’s a sizable crowd but manageable enough to get around. Only halted by occasional photo opportunities to have selfies and posterity shots taken. I enjoyed looking at the decorations. Amazed at how some home owners which really took time to meticulously design their houses. While a few where just used simple decors enough to be part of festival.
To encourage households to be creative, a contest is held by the festival committee to award the efforts of the best decorated houses for the year’s festival.
Giants Roam Pahiyas
I liked that the Pahiyas Festival this year seemed stripped down and has gone back to basics as the early days. Sans the large sponsored icons hogging the plaza grounds and street displays. Perhaps because it is just restarting. Over commercialization from my last visit got me disinterested on revisiting the festival before.
Though I noticed there are giants now similar to Angono’s Higante’s roaming the streets. And the giants now have the sponsorship banners or tarps attached to them. I know in Angono this is not allowed. I don’t know when this practice started but it wasn’t there back in 2009. When giant’s pass by, revelers, especially kids would shout “dito! dito!” and the giants would approach and lean towards them. Dito means “here”. It definitely adds some fun to the festivity.
Lucban Church, Street food and Art Galore
We only spent a short time in the afternoon on our visit. Even hampered by a squall for a moment before we continued on exploring. But we did manage to enjoy some staple street food like the pancit hab-hab which you eat without utensils and some grilled Lucban longganisa. There’s also their local version of ginataang (glutinous rice balls in coconut milk) with a hefty serving of gabi (taro).
At the center of the festivity is the Lucban Church. This beautiful baroque church known as San Luis Obispo de Tolosa Parish Church was established in 1578. Just outside the church grounds is an art exhibit from some of the local artists, a good way to showcase their works.
We didn’t manage to see if the kalas was still practiced as we left before dark. We still have a long ride back to Manila. But I’m just glad that the festivals are back and this may be one of the many this year hopefully. Let the rains bless us this year. Pahiyas Festival is still one of its kind in the country. It’s great to experience at least once in your life if you enjoy festivals.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.