Guest post: The Most Fascinating Festivals in Manila – by Benjamin Gluck
In this week’s guest post… our new contributor, Benjamin, is taking us on a tour round Manila to explore its various and colourful festivals! Join in!
The Most Fascinating Festivals in Manila
Manila, the second largest city in the Philippines and the nation’s capital, has a culture and history that is surprisingly rich. From a devout and colourfully expressed Catholicism to the influence of Spanish, British and American rule to city walls built to keep out Chinese pirates, few places can lay claim to the diversity that has made Manila such a unique, vibrant and important port throughout much of modern world history.
One way that Manila remembers and rejoices in its diverse culture and storylines is through the celebration of scores of annual festivals. These festivals retell stories, mark important holidays and practices, celebrate unique Manilan cultural contributions and keep the history of the place alive to each new generation and those visitors lucky enough to get caught up in a festival’s happenings and joy. If you’re looking to find accommodations in Manila for your next holiday, line up your travel plans with one or more of these outstanding festivals.
Feast of the Black Nazarene
The Black Nazarene is a statue in Manila that many Catholics believe is miraculous. Made by an unknown Mexican sculptor sometime in the early 1600s, Pope Innocent X approved its veneration in 1650. Legend has it that a fire on the ship that transported the sculpture to Manila caused the darkening of the Christ’s wooden skin. The sculpture was enshrined in Manila’s Minor Basilica for hundreds of years, and it has survived multiple fires, earthquakes and wars. It now sits in Quiapo Church, where once a year, during the Feast of the Black Nazarene, it makes a procession through the streets of Manila. Last year, nine million people gathered to celebrate the 22-hour procession where over 500,000 barefoot devotees took turns carrying the wooden sculpture.
International Bamboo Organ Festival
The only bamboo organ in the world exists in Las Piñas City, just a short jaunt away from Manila. A celebration of music that can only be experienced in the Parish of St. Joseph where the bamboo organ is housed, this yearly event features performances by local choirs, orchestras and more. There are pieces performed from as long ago as the 1600s, as the International Bamboo Organ Festival celebrates not only the organ, but also the people, musical culture and history of the Philippines.
This annual event has everything from dance parades and float competitions to a major beauty pageant. Called “The Mother of All Fiestas”, the Aliwan Fiesta is a celebration of Filipino heritage that works to showcase the varieties of culture, arts, music and food from throughout the Philippines. A Tagalog word that means “amusement” or “entertainment,” Aliwan aims to be a continual party that highlights each of the Philippines 17 regions. Each region competes in the dance and float competitions, and the floats only use plants, textiles and other supplies that were produced entirely within its borders. Each float portrays an aspect of Filipino folklore or other tradition. There are also street games, fireworks displays, photography contests and more. If you want to get a taste of the variety of life and culture in the Philippines, the Aliwan Fiesta is a great time to take a holiday to the city of Manila.
Introduced during the Spanish occupation of the 18th century, a kalesa is a type of horse-drawn cart that was once heavily relied on for transportation around the island nation, especially by the privileged classes. Until the extensive damage wrought by World War II, the streets of Manila teemed with kalesas. Today, the kalesa is rarely used, although tourists can still pile into one in parts of Manila to take in the sights and sounds of the city. Because its use was once so vital to the Filipino way of life, the kalesa is memorialized and celebrated every September. Songs, dance, music and more are all utilized in this yearly appreciation of a time and way of life that has passed on. It is a festival that remembers the nation and its inhabitants’ more humble origins, while simultaneously marking the time that brought about Filipino independence.
From January through December, the spirit of the Filipino people is marked and memorialized through countless festivals and celebrations. As you plan your next holiday to Manila, let their festivals be a guide to your itinerary as you seek to experience the sights, sounds, tastes and feel of the Philippines.
written by: Benjamin Gluck
Benjamin is a contributing writer and world traveller.