Photos by: Kage Gozun
May is the month of festivals in the Philippines and one of its most colorful celebrations is the harvest festival of Pahiyas (which means décor) held in the province of Quezon. Celebrated on a fixed date every year (May 15), it is held in honor of San Isidro Labrador, the patron saint of farmers.
It started as a gift-giving ritual in Lucban where farmers would present gifts of crops to the Franciscans as a gesture of thanks for a bountiful harvest. The tradition was carried on through the centuries and has since evolved. Instead of laying tribute within their church, the townsfolk of Lucban began displaying their bounty in front of their homes. The parish priest would then walk along the procession route to bless each family.
Now, houses along the procession route continue to creatively display the best of their harvest as a way of thanks and also as a friendly competition where houses are awarded for their decorative skills. Watermelons are carved into fancy designs. Various vegetables are nailed together to resemble people. Some houses even incorporate living livestock such as chickens to give a “day at the farm” feel to their homes.
Aside from their produce, the most popular decoration is a colorful leaf-shaped ornament made out of rice flour. Families incorporate kiping into their displays and dye them in a multitude of colors—all bright and vibrant to reflect the joy in another year’s harvest. Most are strung up to resemble giant lanterns while others are simply hung along windows as colorful accents. Sometimes, vendors will include these brightly colored bits of rice flour in their wares for sale. Bring some home if you can and get into the Pahiyas spirit.
The procession route is changed every year to give all families a chance to participate but it always starts and ends at the Lucban church.
If that isn’t enough to pique your interest, the Pahiyas Festival is also a great way to sample some of the iconic dishes of the area. Chief among them is pancit hab-hab, a noodle dish made from miki noodles, pork, pork liver and shrimp with an assortment of vegetables. What makes authentic hab-hab special is that it is wrapped in a banana leaf, drizzled with vinegar and eaten without utensils. And of course Lucban has it’s own version of longganisa (Filipino-style sausage), a garlicky treat that is readily available for purchase during the festival. Eat your fair share of both to keep your strength up during your visit!
Once you’ve eaten your fill and taken your photographs, you might think that all that’s left to do is head back home. Instead, why not make short stop to the “Kamay ni Hesus” (Hand of Jesus), a popular pilgrimage site not far from the town. Petitioners make their way through the Stations of the Cross as they head to the large statue of Christ at the top of the small hill.
And, totally unrelated to the festival but a great stop on your way home, is Liliw, Laguna. Make a stop for merienda (mid-day snack) and walk around the shops to check out their shoes. Yes, shoes. There is a very large shoe making industry in Liliw and you could find yourself a pair of sandals to bring home.
So there you have it, a basic guide on how to enjoy your Pahiyas Festival.
- Leave Manila early. There are very limited parking slots in town and the later you arrive, the longer your walk will be from your parking slot to the procession route. We like to leave Manila at about 2:30am just to be sure.
- Bring some form of sun protection. The day can get quite hot and you will need a hat to keep you from overheating. But if you forget, there are several stalls within town that sell locally woven hats.
- Conversely, you never know if it might rain so pack a small umbrella in your bag.
- This is not the time to be fashionable! Pick your most comfy pair of sneakers to walk in all day.
- If you have a DSLR camera, forget about telephoto lenses. The streets are narrow and your photographs will benefit more from a macro or shorter lens.
- Expect to sometimes lose each other in the crowd, so either pick a spot to meet up or make sure your mobile phones are fully charged.
- If you’re looking for pasalubong (maybe some broas or a few packs of longganisa) to bring home these are the most popular brands: Abcede, and Efren.
- If you can nab a table at Buddy’s for lunch, do so. This is the restaurant chain built on good, old-fashioned Lucban food.
- Bring an extra shirt and, if you are driving up, a pair of slippers so you can rest your feet on the drive home.
By car: The best way to get to Lucban is via Marcos Highway in Marikina. When you get to the intersection with Masinag Market on your left, turn right heading up to Antipolo. Look for signs for the following Rizal towns: Teresa, Morong, Baras and Pililia. When you hit Laguna, keep an eye out for the towns of Famy, Pangil, Paete, Lumban and Pagsanjan. Go past the Pagsanjan Municipal Hall and Pagsanjan Church. Turn left towards Cavinti and then finally Lucban. Remember that you will not be able to park in the town proper during the festival itself.
Commuting: Coming from Rizal, take a Siniloan-bound jeepney in Tanay. Transfer to AH Transportation bus at the junction near Famy. These buses go through the towns mentioned above before reaching Lucban, Quezon.
In Manila you can also you can look for buses going to Lucena City. Once in Lucena Central take a jeepney or bus going to Lucban.