Bizarre and Fascinating Festivals in the Philippines
Fact: Filipinos love parties and holidays. Whether it’s a religious occasion, charter day, or a local fiesta, we will always find ways to celebrate. And we have a lot—and we mean a lot—of fiestas. The number of festivals celebrated across the spattering of islands in the Philippines exemplifies the diversity of the culture, but while we all know the Sinulog from Cebu, Ati-Atihan of Aklan, Panagbega of Baguio, there are a lot of forms of celebration that are considered odd, but the existence of these bizarre festivals in the Philippines only means one thing—you should try to go to them before you die.
Check some of these bizarre festivals in the Philippines on the list below.
Bizarre Festivals in the Philippines You Should See for Yourself
See videos at the end
Turogpo Festival (Carigara, Leyte)
Held on Black Saturday and definitely one of the most bizarre festivals in the Philippines because of its theme, the Turogpo Festival is an event that shows plethora of fights—cockfights, horse fights, and even more odd, carabao fights. The fiesta started in the 1600s, and the animal jousts were seen as a subtle way of the Filipinos protesting the Spanish rule. It still continues on today, with an influx of tourists (and animal rights activists) to match.
Katigbawan Festival (Catigbian, Bohol)
The celebrations last for a week every June, to a thanksgiving that commemorates the founding of Catigbian. It features beauty contests, but what places it on this list of bizarre festivals in the Philippines is that fact these beauty competitions are not just for humans. Carabaos are also dressed and are given a chance to showcase their talents, but we doubt they can get around to the Q & A rounds. The carabao pageantry is the townspeople’s way of honoring the animals as they are considered farmers’ best friend (sorry, puppy dogs).
Baliw-Baliw Festival (Olango Island, Cebu)
Held every May, this festival is set on the date with the highest 12-noon tide to honor San Vicente Ferrer, the patron saint of the town. The celebration features a lot of odd traditions including cross-dressing men, simulation of giving birth by the same cross-dressing men in the sea, and with people wearing or carrying phallic symbols with them. Then there are inter-animal fights that include roosters, cats, and frogs. But that’s not the most bizarre part. Get this, they have cow manure topped with ketchup—sold all around during the event.
There had been no record as to when the festival actually began, although older folks said it had been celebrated since the eighteenth century or even earlier. The pagan undertones led to a ban from the Catholic Church, but townsfolk continue the celebration as defended by its devotees, as it is a plea to their patron saint to help them cope with the madness of life.
Lukayo Festival (Kalayaan, Laguna)
It’s somehow weird that Filipino women have given the finger to men since before feminism became a thing. Definitely one of the most bizarre festivals in the Philippines, the Lukayo Festival, which is a play on words that meant “loka loka kayo” or “you’re crazy” is two centuries old, and it’s a tradition that increases the likelihood of a couple to bear children.
The outrageous festival has women dressed up while waving around wooden phalluses, eggplants, or other things that could depict the male sexual organ. They then sing innuendo-filled songs as they trot down the streets. Although it looks malicious, Filipino anthropologist and national artist Ramon Obusan said that the ritual symbolizes the power of women against male domination by satirizing the phallus, which is often considered as the male symbol of power.
Obando Fertility Rites (Obando, Bulacan)
Celebrated for three days in May, the Obando Fertility Rites is a tradition that came before the Spanish did, when pagan natives celebrate in prayer for having children or for getting a good harvest. The festival is now a mix of pagan and Roman Catholic beliefs with San Pascual de Baylon, Sta. Clara, and the Lady of Salambao replacing the old idols as the figures of the fiesta. Childless couples and singles looking for soulmates can do the fertility dance of San Pascual and Sta. Clara, while the fisher-farm folk can dance to the Lady of Salambao for a good fishing season.
Feast of Sta. Marta de Pateros (Pateros, Manila)
It may look like any other Filipino festival, but the back story of the Feast of Sta. Marta in Pateros is pretty interesting, which places this celebration on the list of bizarre festivals in the Philippines. According to the tradition, the festival started in the Spanish era, where townspeople made a plea to the saint after a huge crocodile living in the river started eating the ducks that served as their source of their livelihood. They started praying to the saint on advice from the local priest. Soon after, an unknown man was able to kill the crocodile and was hailed their hero. In gratitude, the people proclaimed Sta. Marta their patron saint, and today, the statue depicts her stepping over a crocodile.
Aswang Festival (Roxas City, Capiz)
The rest of the world have vampires, but the most famous mythical creature in the Philippines remains to be the aswang—no matter how popular those Twilight books and films are.
A young tradition beginning only in 2004, the Aswang Festival showcases the monster at the end of October in Capiz. The organizers, Dugo Capiznon, hoped to change the people’s perception of their town as a haven for these dangerous creatures, instead using them as a tourist attraction with people parading in costumes.
Unfortunately, the hold of the Catholic Church is still strong, and it had to be shut down just three years later, fearing that the festival could sway people toward evil.
Mayohan sa Tayabas (Tayabas City, Quezon)
Free suman, anyone? The festival that is celebrated in May is the townspeople’s way of showing their devotion to the patron saint of farmers, San Isidro Labrador. It symbolizes their gratitude for the year’s blessings and their hopefulness for the same in the future.
Many festivals are about gratitude, but what sets this one apart is the highlight: the Hagisan ng Suman, where people throw suman, foodstuff, and other items down the procession that is carrying the statue of San Isidro Labrador around the city. Anyone who is able to catch the items is said to have a good year ahead.
Rodeo Masbateño (Masbate City, Masbate)
Rodeos have made their way to the Philippines with the famous Rodeo Masbateño, a five-day festival that had been celebrated in the heart of the Cattle Capital every April since 1993. Said to be the biggest event in Masbate, the festival’s rodeo has cow wrestling and lassoing events and even calesa rides for a traditional Filipino feel. There are also cattle parades, barn dances, and livestock shows. It is because of the festival’s popularity that former president Gloria Arroyo issued an order declaring Masbate as the country’s rodeo capital.
Taong Putik Festival (Aliaga, Nueva Ecija)
Many festivals will commemorate the day of St. John the Baptist by dousing each other with water, but in Aliaga, Nueva Ecija, they take it up a notch by drenching their bodies with mud and covering themselves in vines and banana leaves before joining the procession, making it one of the most bizarre festivals in the Philippines ever.
The practice was said to have begun during the World War II, when the Japanese were about to execute all male residents as a revenge for a guerrilla ambush. However, just as the execution was about to start, it began to rain heavily, which the Japanese took as an ominous sign and set their prisoners free.
The villagers then attributed the miracle to St. John the Baptist and celebrated by rolling in the mud. Since then, the townspeople celebrated the day in such fashion.
Parada ng Lechon (Balayan, Batangas)
Filipinos have a love affair with their lechon (and pork, for that matter), but the people of Balayan, Batangas, took it up a notch with their Parada ng Lechon. The festival also commemorates St. John the Baptist—but with hundreds of roasted pigs being paraded in the streets every year on June 24. Many of them are adorned in costumes, while others have had their heads removed and placed on mannequins. Don’t worry, though, food is not wasted. After the procession, the lechon are brought to the local church to be blessed and are distributed to the public afterward.
Piestang Tugak (San Fernando City, Pampanga)
San Fernando folks would give princesses a run for their money. Forget carabaos and pigs, they have Piestang Tugak, which is a frog-themed fiesta held every first week of October since 2003. Very deserving of a spot on any list of bizarre festivals in the Philippines, this event is meant to showcase the importance of frogs to the Kapampangans, especially those of the Fernandinos. Among the attractions are the traditional frog-catching contests and the serving of frog-based cuisines like stuffed frogs and other cuisines that are centered on—you guessed it—frogs.
Bagoong Festival (Lingayen, Pangasinan)
Salted shrimp paste is great to serve with some Filipino dishes and green mangoes, but the people of Lingayen celebrate it more than anyone because they set up the Bagoong Festival in 2011 to honor the condiment. This is because making bagoong has been their source of livelihood, which seems like an apt reason to celebrate. Watch dancer wearing shrimp and fish costumes and even those that wear bagoong bottles as they sashay down the streets.
San Pedro Cutud Lenten Rites (San Fernando City, Pampanga)
Every Good Friday since the 1950s, penitents of a barangay in Pampanga would line the streets and strike their backs bloody with sharpened whips from bamboo. Gory as it is, the spectacle does not stop there. It shows three devotees to reenact the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the two thieves by actually crucifying themselves with nails on a cross in a field near the barangay.
These devotees do so as a form of penance. By reenacting the suffering of Christ, they feel that they have redeemed themselves from their sins. The bloody nature of the event has attracted devotees and foreign tourists who are all eager to see the bloodied devotion of people to their faith.
Which of these bizarre festivals in the Philippines would you want to see for yourself?