To experience The Philippine islands at their most joyous, you need to find a festival or a fiesta. Just about every city or town has at least one a year, as The Family Adventure Project’s Kirstie Pelling found out…  

Festival days….and weeks

The air is gold and silver, and glittering with an energy that even the busy city of Tagbilaran only sees once a year. And now it’s pink and yellow and flashing towards us like a tropical bird. Soon it will take on jungle shades and a steady beat. And then it will wash through the streets like the sea that covers 400 species of rainbow coral. This is Bohol. This is July. And this is Sandugo.

Blood Compact

Festivals in The Philippines are huge and can go on for days, or even a whole month. Our visit happily coincides with Tagbilaran’s Sandugo which festival marks a blood compact on the island in the 1500’s. This significant moment in tribal tradition involved a Spanish explorer and a Bohol chieftain and is believed to be first ever treaty of friendship between Filipinos and Spaniards.

The festival pulls together an ambitious schedule of seemingly unrelated activities. Food, music, boxing and beauty pageants lead up the main event; a street dance competition where tens of thousands take part and watch. This is not street dance as we know it; it’s more like carnival.

Public thanks and celebration

Most festivals have religious roots. On the nearby island of Cebu, the Sinulog festival in January is another dance extravaganza where 3-4 million people pack into the city streets for a whole day of dancing following a high mass in honour of Santa Nino. Despite many of their churches being ruined in last year’s earthquake, Filipino people still believe they have a lot to be thankful for, and consider this year’s crop of festivals as their chance to show it.

Fiesta days

Fiestas are more low key without the same spectacle or budget. But they are happy occasions where people in towns and barangays come together to mark the anniversary of the community’s patron saint. Every town in The Philippines has at least one fiesta a year. As there are 48 towns on Bohol alone, you can imagine how much partying goes on across this country of more than 7000 islands and 100 million people. Fiesta is comprised of a mass followed by open house. There’s a spirit of generosity as people feed family, friends and strangers. You don’t need an invite; you can just turn up to a participating house and the host will feed you.

Little and often

The trick at a fiesta is to eat small amounts, because tradition involves dropping into five or six homes. As first timer fiesta goers we don’t realise this as we pile our plates high with delicious dishes on offer at the first home we visit. The star of the show is a whole roasted pig, or ‘Lechon’ and we help ourselves. But by the second house, we realise we have consumed far too much pork crackling. If you visit The Philippines during festival or fiesta season then make sure you haven’t eaten first! 

For every flight and hotel trip that you book to the Philippines for 7 nights or more from now until the 31st of December, Expedia will donate £100 to Habitat for Humanity to help rebuild homes, schools and livelihoods.

Find out more about the work of Habitat for Humanity in the Philippines.

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