The Pahiyas harvest festival is one of Philippines’ largest and most colorful harvest festivals held every 15 May, attracting locals from around the country to partake in the vibrant celebrations.
I was fortunate enough to be invited by the Philippines’ Department of Tourism and flown in via Cebu Pacific to begin my tour of the local harvest festivities held in various cities in the Philippines including: Tayabas, Sariaya, Gumaca, Tiaong and Lucena City.
I arrived at Lucban, Quezon’s town center where the Pahiyas festival was in full swing from weeks of preparation and decorating.
The Pahiyas festival is one of the most popular harvest festivals to honor San Isidro Labrador, or Isidore The Farm Labourer, who is known as the Catholic patron saint of farmers. Isidore or San Isidro had many miracles attributed to his labourous canon, including Angels helping him plough the fields alongside with him.
Hey, if Isidore could get angels to farm for him, its easy to see why everyone’s bet is on this saint to bring about the good harvest.
The townfolk throw this traditional harvest celebration as a form of gratitude for the bountiful harvests and of course, also in hopes to be blessed with the same abundance the following season.
Every year, thousands of locals and tourists flock to Lucban to immerse in this invigorating event that is referred by many locals as a ‘fiesta to end all fiestas’.
These colorful decorations are made with “Kiping”, rice paste made into leaf-shaped, multi-colored wafers which are then used to adorn the fronts of local homes. Fruits, vegetables and flowers are usually hung together with the “Kiping” to further decorate the facades.
All around town you will see intricately decorated housefronts with bring and colorful “Kiping” and a variety of other produce.
A procession with the image of San Isidro is also planned beforehand that goes through the town in a certain route. It is said that houses along the route where the procession passes will be especially blessed and favored, hence prompting lavish decorations to welcome the saint’s blessing.
During the Pahiyas festival, each household tries to outdo each other in friendly decorating competition to be distinguished as the winning design, earning honor and prizes at the end of the festival.
I’d expected some mild displays, given that the locals have to build and provide their own decorations, but I was hugely mistaken by the detail and effort that goes into many of these fronts.
Several homeowners even go to the extent of creating large mannequins that move and sway by the tug of a rope at the back to capture attention and push the limits of creativity. These guys really go all out!
Other than the massive visual display of colours, multiple street vendors can be found around as well, selling merchandising crafts, local foods and some pretty weird items like this Golden Chicken Fern that produces a wolly hair all around the plant.
Local street delicacies can also be purchased by visitors at very affordable prices, so you can hang around at the festival without having to hunt for food elsewhere.
Since the traditions of Pahiyas started, Lucban has received much international attention which has prompted the Department of Tourism to list Lucban as a tourist attraction and cultural heritage city.
A lively and flamboyant display made with the most basic materials, it is simply amazing how beautiful the town becomes during the Pahiyas festival. The enthusiasm of the locals and the energetic atmosphere is an experience unique to the Pahiyas festival which you need to see once in your life.
More regional-based harvest festivals are also celebrated all around Philippines, which I will present next.
Araña at Baluarte
Another local harvest festival related to the Pahiyas festival held on the same day 15th May is the Araña at Baluarte. This festival happens in the town of Gumaca, Quezon and also honors San Insidro.
A combination of the Spanish words Araña (Chandelier) and Baluarte (Fort/Bastion), this humongous town-wide event features fruits, vegetables, and even poultry in beautifully arranged in Arañas ‘chandeliers’ hanged in from the Baluartes ‘arches’ set up in the main streets.
All the districts in Gumaca put up elaborately decorated Baluarte ‘arches’ to compete for the best creative display during the festival.
The 3 most amazingly decorated district arches are awarded prizes, and you can see the villagers take their decorating very seriously with elaborate displays using local fruits and vegetables like bananas, long beans, pineapples, radish, coconuts and carrots.
At 4pm, a procession with the representation of San Isidro winds up the Arana at Baluarte festival by passing through every district’s arch.
Immediately after the San Isidro mannequin passes through each arch blessing the hanging produce, locals begin to gather the hanging fruits and vegetables in a free-for-all grab fest. Whatever you can take from the arches, you get to keep, and thus there is much motivation to act fast so as to get the most bounty. The local’s suddenly turn into spiderman with their superhuman feat of climbing and jumping to snatch the best goods.
The Aranas at Baluarte differes from the Pahiyas festival in that the massive Baluarte arches of each district in Gumaca is decorated instead of individual homes in Lucban. Other highlights also includes a beauty pageant at night along with folk dances and various street foods being given out.
The Agawan is another smaller annual agricultural festival held in Sariaya, Quezon in Philippines. The name ‘Agawan’ is in tagalong to mean ‘to snatch’ or ‘to grab’, which describes the main tradition of this festival.
Local communities partake in dance performances and costume competitions as part of the celebrations again to honor the patron saint San Isidro.
Before the main parade, residents of Sariaya decorate their homes with various materials like string beans and banana leaves, while the signature buntal hats are also laced all over the front of house.
The most traditional element used in decorating the houses is the thin bagakay or young bamboo branches from which fruits, junk food, candy and even money is hung from for people to snatch as they pass by after the parade.
Folklore says that no matter how high the bagakay, when the image of San Isidro passes by, the bambo would stiill ‘bow’, allowing people to snatch the goodies as they go by.
As the parade passes by, people in their houses throw food, fruits and money into the parade while the ‘agawan’, or snatching, commences similar to the Arana Baluarte.
How to get around:
From airport, take a taxi to Buendia, Pasay Bus Terminal P 200.00 (Est.). Depart for Sariaya, Tabayas or Lucena via Bus, P 210 (Est.). Traveling from city to city is a combination of bus or jeepney.
All the harvest festivals in Philippines featured here have a common theme and purpose, but have their own traditions as well which make them unique individually. Travelling to the further away cities might prove difficult for tourists though.
For many Filipino locals, the harvest festivals are the highlight of the year filled with fun, food and multiple photo-taking opportunities. It’s still a very provincial experience yet to be overly populated by tourists and makes it a special trip for anyone intending to immerse in the celebrations.
Flying to Philippines
And of course, getting to Philippines for the harvest festival is very affordable via boutique airline Cebu Pacific, which was originally started up to give overseas working Filipinos an affordable option to fly home.