The Ilonggos love their festivals, so it is not surprising that these are already part of their culture. Most Iloilo festivals are religious in nature, but often, Ilonggos combine these religious festivals with folk celebrations. They view these fiestas as opportunities to pass on their beliefs and traditions to the younger generations.
Curiously, you will see that personal concerns seem to fade away during these festivals. People are more aware of their heritage and culture because of these fiestas. In truth, Iloilo festivals provide families and friends with the perfect reason to feast and celebrate.
Iloilo festivals are quite numerous that no one is entirely sure how many festivals there are actually in Iloilo; however, all of these festivals truly reflect the Ilonggo culture. If you are considering visiting Iloilo, you should try to plan your visit in time for their big festivals, so you will enjoy a glimpse of the history, culture and tradition of Iloilo.
One of the biggest Iloilo festivals that you should definitely look out for is the Dinagyang Festival. It is the festival honoring Santo Niño or the child Jesus. It is held on the fourth week of January and it commemorates the Christianization of the native Malays during the Spanish era. This festival is quite similar to the Mardi Gras of Brazil. It is wild, dazzling, outlandish and quite riotous. The costumes and the floats reflect Iloilo’s artistry, ingenuity and craftsmanship. The parades truly display their cultural heritage. This festival is a week-long event of partying for the whole city. Millions of people flock to Iloilo for film festivals, marathon runs, masses, processions, beauty pageants, concerts and contests.
Fiesta of Arevalo
Every third Sunday of the month of January, the Fireworks Display Contest is held in Arevalo, Iloilo City. It is actually part of the Fiesta of Arevalo; and in truth, it is the highlight of the event. This contest turns the fiesta into a celebration of blazing fireworks that light up the city’s skyline.
Feast of Our Lady of Candles
The city celebrates the Feast of Our Lady of Candles every second day of February. This is one of the biggest Iloilo festivals and this is when opulent religious pageantries grace the city. People from all over the Western Visayas flock to Iloilo for garden shows, grand cock derbies, agro-industrial exhibits, carnivals, concerts, contests and more. Many people believe that this festival symbolizes the city’s prosperity and the people’s love for huge fiestas and celebrations.
Carabao Carroza Race
One of the most unique Iloilo festivals is the Carabao Carroza Race which is held every May in Pavia. This festival is entirely about carabaos. The highlight of the event is the 400-meter race where the participants are carabaos pulling their own carrosa.
Iloilo festivals also include the Santacruzan Festival which is celebrated from April 24 up to May 31. This celebration is big in Sta. Cruz, Arevalo in Iloilo City. This includes a mayflower festival and grand processions with huge arches.
Cry of Sta. Barbara
There are Iloilo festivals that are celebrated to commemorate the history of Iloilo. One of this is the Cry of Sta. Barbara which is celebrated every 17th of November in Sta. Barbara in Iloilo. This festival commemorates the first cry for revolution against the Spanish conquistadores. The festival usually opens with a huge parade with participants dressed up in Spanish attires. Aside from the parade, there are cultural presentations as well.
Held every first week of February, Salakayan festival is an important weeklong festivity involving lore, customs and art in Miag-ao. It features Miag-ao's favorite delicacies and native pastries in the food fair, local woven and agricultural products in the trade fair, hablon and patadyong fashion show, painting exhibit by local painters, photo exhibit of the town’s rich culture and history, literary and musical show, sport events like basketball and marathon, ballroom dancing and disco, fluvial parade depicting the victorious battle between Muslim pirates and the natives, Salakayan Reenactment contest, and the famous Higante parade showing large well-made mascots representing town archetypes. The festivity usually culminates with the coronation of the festival queen on the last day.
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Paraw Regatta Festival
Held every third weekend of February at Tatoy’s Manokan in Villa, Paraw Regatta is an exciting festivity showcasing colorful sailboat race in the strait between Guimaras and Iloilo City. The celebration showcases other exotic and interesting activities, including Pinta Paraw, a painting contest on the sails, Pintawo, a body painting contest, Miss Paraw Regatta, a local beauty pageant, beach volleyball, photo competition, pyrotechnics exhibition by the sea, and the Iloilo Governor Fishing contest, a crusade against dynamite fishing.
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Celebrated every last Saturday of January, Kasadyahan Festival is part of the Dinagyang Festival. It is composed of different performances depicting different cultures and traditions, and important historic events in different towns of Iloilo. Performers wear colorful costumes and show unique and colorful rituals. Different contest categories include the best in street dancing, music, costume, choreography, and performance.
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The Jaro festivity is usually a two-week celebration ending on the town fiesta on the second of February. The Jaro Fiesta is held in honor of the town’s patron saint, Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria (Our Lady of the Candles). The Our Lady of the Candles statue is brought down from the church and paraded across town. Like a typical fiesta, the town prepares a sumptuous feast for their relatives and friends. Some of the activities in this celebration include events from different association groups, like the search for the Mutya ng Jaro and the children's fancy ball parade. There is also a grand parade of young women from prominent Jaro families of Ilonggo lineage. The festivity culminates with the crowning of the festivity queen, the Queen of Jaro. The celebration also features the one-of-a-kind, multi-million cock derby which attracts cockfighting fanatics from all-over the nation.
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Celebrated every fourth weekend of January, the Dinagyang Festival is a social, cultural and religious activity held in honor of the Santo Niño, the Holy Child Jesus, and the coming of the Malay settlers in Panay. The festival is basically divided into three major events: Ati-ati street dancing, Kasadyahan street dancing festival and the Miss Dinagyang pageant. The highlight of this festival lies on Sunday with the street dancing and parading of vibrant and lively tribes, resembling the Ati warriors. The participants wear colorful costumes and hair dresses, dance to the rhythm of the drumbeats as they stomp their feet, and exhilaratingly chants the famous “Hala Bira.” The festivity also includes the fluvial procession of the Santo Nino along the Iloilo River. The festival is one of the best tourism events in the country and is recently named the “Festival of Excellent Folk Choreography.”
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Katagman Festival is a weeklong celebration held every 28th of April until 3rd of May in Oton. It highlights the historical importance of the golden mask that was unearthed in Oton in 1973. The festivity also shows an interesting cultural theme about the town’s history dating back to 13th century. The celebration features include agricultural trade and garden show, food festival, history and culture exhibits, unveiling of the golden mask replica, salvo parade, Porma Balas or sand sculpting contest, races like motorboat at Flores Beach and mountain bike, Laro ng Lahi or the traditional games, search for Ginoong Erpat, Ginang Ermat, and Oton Foundation Queen, Bomborador or the kite-flying competition, and the Katagman street dancing and theater competition.
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There are still other Iloilo festivals that are just as fun, unique and exciting. Some of them include Iloilo-Guimaras Paraw Regatta, Pasungay, Hinugyaw, Paghukon, Molo District Fiesta, Mandurriao-District Fiesta, Santacruzan, Pagtaltal in Barotac Viejo, La Paz District Fiesta, Ilonggo Lantern Festival, Ilonggo Music Festival, Christmas Light Festival and the Ilonggo Festival which is curiously held every October in SM Megamall
These Ilonggo festivals are testimonies to Iloilo’s multi-faceted tapestry of culture and history. The city has the biggest, longest and most colorful festivals in the country. And if you are planning to visit Iloilo, you should definitely time your visit to any of their festival. It will make your trip more exciting and memorable.