There’s a reason to celebrate in the Philippines always, with each region having festivals ranging from religious experiences to customs for staple foods. The Pahiyas festival of Lucban celebrates farming and the patron saint of the garden. Pahiyas comes from two words in the Philippines, ‘hiyas’ which is a precious stone and ‘payas,’ meaning decorating something for the offering. The Pahiyas festival translated; means offering the most precious jewels of the bountiful harvest.
Significance of Pahiyas Festival to the People of Lucban
Since the 16th century, the festival of Pahiyas has been celebrated in Lucban, Quezon territory and around its locale. Pahiyas festival happens in mid-May when enthusiastic crowds express gratitude to San Isidro Labrador or Saint Isidore the Laborer. He is the patron saint of farmers who as legend has it; mystically tilled and furrowed a field every time he finished holding mass.
Farmers and Lucban townsfolk on the fifteenth of May each year adorn houses with vegetable and fruit decorations. Venerating the good saint for a bountiful harvest, the Pahiyas festival goers use kiping, rice wafers and handicraft to turn the city and surrounding towns into beautiful panoramas. Once the festivities are concluded the entire celebrant crowd shares amongst themselves all the decorative edibles such as fruits and wafers.
How did the Pahiyas Festival Become a Christian Celebration?
Though most festivals began in the Philippines as pagan rituals, many have imbibed Christian and cultural significance. A simple thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest, the Pahiyas festival started as a ritual to idols or ‘anito.’ The spread of religion and especially Catholicism turned the adoration to an idol into veneration for Saint Isidore the laborer. Legends hold that when the prayerful man got onto his knees, an angel riding a white carabao would mysteriously plow the saint’s farm.
The people of Lucban in Quezon and the surrounding towns eagerly wait for the 15th of May every year. On this day, their houses become beautified with kiping, fruits and vegetables. This Festival of Pahiyas used to be held at the foot or Mt Banahaw back in the 15th century. The venue however changed when paganism retreated on the islands, and people started bringing their harvest produce to the local church.
This was done mainly to honor the patron saint of farmers, peasants, and laborers; St Isidore the laborer. After the parish priest had blessed the harvest first fruits, the people gave thanks to God for His benevolence. Since the town’s populace had become too large for the church to hold, the harvest started being displayed in or around the farmer’s homes. After mass, the parish priest would walk around the town with his procession of catechists and bless the community’s harvest.
Baked rice in wafer-thin strips called kiping is mostly associated with the Pahiyas festival. These leaf-shaped wafers of ground rice are colored in bright patinas of red, green, yellow and fuchsia. This delicacy is said to originate from the Acapulco-galleon era of Manila, invented by a traveling cook. Legend has it that when this culinary expert returned to Lucban, he sought to eat some tacos but couldn’t quite make them. During his experimentation with the ingredients at hand, he accidentally came up with kiping.
Activates during the Pahiyas Festival
With all the homes along the street brightly decorated with that year’s harvest, a procession carrying the image of Saint Isidore the laborer takes its determined course. Alongside the saint is the image depicting Isidore’s wife Saint Mary of the Head. Carriages elaborate the procession, carrying along with effigies of the husband and wife saints made out of paper-mache. The festivities always culminate with a huge feast where everyone is invited; including tourists, guests, and all townsfolk.
Many delightful dishes are laid out during this Pahiyas festival feast, with dishes such as lucban longganisa, grilled kiping and pancit habhab. Honor and prizes go to the home that had the award-winning decorations; where judged look for creativity for the best bountiful harvest depiction. The winners also receive a large papremyo or big cash reward.
Why the Pahiyas Festival is still Going Strong
The tradition of the Pahiyas festival is kept alive today as locals believe that it keeps misfortune and deprivation away from Lucban. Its pagan foundations were transformed in the celebration of 1963 when the Pahiyas became a grand and colorful fete that it is today. This was initiated by the town’s Art Club president and founder, Fernando Cadeliña Nañawa. Cultural showcases, contests, and exhibits augment the main competition where the best harvest adorned house is awarded.
Parades and creative crafts have made the town of Lucban a tourist destination boosted by the Pahiyas festival. Putting out the harvest on the doorstep for the priest to bless has been incorporated with commercial activities such as selling bags, abaniko hand-held fans, hats, mats, and lucban longganisa which is a Filipino variety of long sausage. The town’s favorite rice wafer or kiping is everywhere to be found on the facades of each Lucban house.
Other festivals in Philippines
Visit the Pahiyas Festival this Year
With religious thanksgiving highlights, the Pahiyas festival resonates with the spirit of tradition. The ‘kalas’ or romp away of decorations and harvest that takes place at the end of the festival symbolizes joy and merriment. This has made the Pahiyas festival one of the most colorful and sought after tourist occasions in the Philippines with locals from other towns chipping in.