Pahiyas Festival: A Celebration of Blessings and Solidarity

When one speaks of Pahiyas Festival, what comes to mind immediately are images of houses adorned with agricultural harvest and products like fruits, vegetables, rice grains, rice stalks, flowers, and ferns,woven palm hats along with brightly colored rice wafer of various sizes and shapes, called kiping, a type of rice dough made from a traditional recipe. Pahiyas, meaning decoration, is a harvest festival that is celebrated every 15th of May, during the feast of feast of St. Isidore, in the towns of Lucban (most popular,) Candelaria, Tayabas, Sariaya, Tiaong and Lucena City in honor of the patron saint of farmers and to give thanks for a good harvest and assure farmers of more bountiful harvests in forthcoming seasons.

The beginning of the festival dates back to the 1500’s when farmers used to celebrate the feast through a simple offering to the anito or pagan god. They would gather together and bring their harvests inside a worship place where they would eat and drink wine together. They believed that in having this kind of celebration, they would be blessed for another bountiful harvest in the next season.

When the Spaniards came in the 1630’s, they told the farmers the legend of St. Isidore whose farm was magically plowed by a white oxen whenever he went to church. This made it easier for the farmers to embrace the Christian faith. During the harvest season, they began to bring their best produce to the church to be blessed by the parish priest. Eventually, to make it easier for the farmers, the priest told them to put their products infront of their homes to be blessed during the procession. The people of Lucban eventually used their creativity, and began using their agricultural harvests and products to decorate their homes.

Today, it has become the highlight of the celebration. The festival had attracted so much attention from local and international tourists that the local tourism turned it into a contest to encourage the residents to continue to improve this festive tradition.

From a sidetrip to Puting Buhangin in Pagbilao Quezon, I got to Lucban at 5PM on the 14th, a day before the actual date of the festival. It was my first time to attend the celebration. I immediately went to the street where I could see the decorated houses hoping to take pictures before the bigger crowd would arrive the next day, but there was not much to see at that time as the owners were not yet finished and were still busy decorating their homes. An hour later, I met my friends infront of the church and we hurried to catch the last jeepney bound for Sampaloc (15minutes away from Lucban) where we would spend the night in the house of my officemate’s friend.

The next day, my friends were inviting me to go to a river in Sampaloc and then go to Pahiyas festival after lunch but I wasn’t interested so I went to Lucban alone that morning. When I got there, the jeeps were no longer allowed to enter the town proper, so along with the other visitors, I had to walk for 15 minutes to get to the Pahiyas main location which was very hard for me as I was feeling a sharp pain in my right foot due to a swollen toe that was accidentally bumped on the door earlier that morning.

When I arrived at the festival scene, I was amazed by the transformation. The street was very different from what I saw the previous day. There was so much color in every home.

Ordinary field crops and colorful “kipings” were meticulously put together to form chandeliers or “arangyas.”

Rice grains, fruits and vegetables were transformed into unique works of art. The entire scene was a tremendous display of creativity and hardwork.

As I continued to wander and feast my eyes on the vibrant colours around me, I felt great respect for the people of Lucban. I realized that Pahiyas is not only a celebration of the residents’ bountiful harvest, but unseen to the naked eye, it also shows the camaraderie, solidarity and generosity of the people of Lucban who all worked hard together, each family in every home, to turn the entire street into a unique and admirable fiesta setting for everyone to enjoy. This thought made me appreciate the Pahiyas festival even more.

The entire street was crowded. Everyone seemed to be in a frenzy mode, busy with either buying souvenirs and pasalubongs, taking photos, or posing for pictures here and there.

The day was a scorcher and with the sun shining so brightly, hats of various colors and designs seemed to be the fashion craze of the day.

The smell of Lucban longganisa (pinoy sausage) being barbecued along the streets was irrisistable. My stomach stopped me from walking and led me to the side of the street to buy one, and then one more, and then another until I had eaten four and did not leave the place without buying a dozen to bring home. As I wrote this blog, I thought, I should have bought more.

More visitors arrived as the hours went by. I decided to stay for an hour more and wandered the street going at the pace of the crowd, stopping every now and then to take some more pictures. Whenever I got tired or couldn’t bear the pain in my right foot, I would just stand in one corner and let myself be entertained by watching the other visitors move excitedly from one spot to the next for picture-taking. I just love watching groups of people having fun.

At 1:00PM, I was ready to leave. There are other activities scheduled in the afternoon but I knew that if stayed a couple of hours more, it would be difficult to get a ride back to Manila. But not until I had tasted Lucban’s famous pancit habhab first. It is a sautéed miki noodles with pork meat, pork liver and shrimp and vegetables such as pechay and sayote, placed in a banana leaf, and eaten strait to the mouth without using any utensil. It wasn’t easy to eat pancit that way and I was tempted to ask for a plastic fork just like what the others did, but I thought it would spoil the experience if I didn’t eat it the traditional way.

It tasted nice, but it wasn’t good enough to make me crave for more. I was just glad I did, though, not only for experience’s sake, but with the approximately 3-hour ride back to Manila, I needed something to keep my stomach full during the trip.

I left the Pahiyas festival that afternoon wishing that the people of Lucban may continue to receive more blessings, so that this centuries-old celebration may live on for many more years to come.

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