Since ancient times, people the world over have been holdings feasts, dances, singing, and other merry-making activities in thanksgiving and celebration of good harvests. China, for instance, has the Moon Festival, Britain has the Harvest Home, Germany has the Erntedankfest, and the United States has the Thanksgiving.
In the Philippines, one of the most well-known harvest festivals is held annually in Lucban, Quezon Province. It is called the Pahiyas Festival, which is celebrated every 15th day of the hot summer month of May. This festival, believed to be one of the Philippines' most extravagant and most colorful, is held in honor of San Isidro Labrador and is the farmers' thanksgiving for a rich and bountiful harvest.
Where is Lucban?
Lucban is a quiet and classic Tagalog farming town sitting on the foothills of the sacred Mount Banahaw. This upland town is three to four hours south of the country's capital, Manila. It is located in Quezon, one of the largest provinces in the Philippines in terms of land area. It is a municipality with idyllic and traditional Southern Tagalog scenery, with narrow roads, a provincial charm with rolling and green farmlands in the background, and a considerable number of Spanish-era structures.
How the Pahiyas started
The Pahiyas Festival's name came from the Filipino words “hiyas,” which means jewel and “pahiyas,” which means both precious offering and decor. The festival is an old farmers' harvest celebration, which started in the 16th century. It is held in honor of San Isidro Labrador, the patron saint of farmers, peasants and laborers.
The feast of San Isidro Labrador was first celebrated by the people of Lucban at the time the Spaniards were still spreading Christianity in the 1500s. The early residents of Lucban celebrated the feast through a simple offering to the “anito” (pagan god) asking for a bountiful harvest. During harvest season, the farmers would gather their crops inside a small worship place where they would eat together and drink a kind of coconut wine. The locals believe that in having this kind of celebration and merry-making, they would be blessed with another bountiful harvest during the following season.
During the 1630s, under the leadership of Chief Lukas Martin and Fr. Alfonso de San Miguel, the first Catholic church was built and the people of Lucban learned to embrace and incorporate Christian faith into their daily lives. When harvest time came, the farmers would pick their finest crops and take them to the much bigger church where the parish priest would bless them in thanksgiving to God and Jesus Christ. This practice or ritual assures farmers of bountiful harvests year after year after year.
According to legend, which was passed on by the Spaniards to the Filipinos from Mexico during the Spanish colonization era, white oxen would magically plow and tend to San Isidro's field whenever he went to church. San Isidro was Mexico's patron saint of agriculture, venerated and called upon by the people for an abundant supply of water as well as a fertile land. The good harvests enjoyed by the farmers of Lucban make stronger their devotion to San Isidro Labrador.
A day of festive decorations
The Pahiyas has evolved through the years to include many activities. Moreover, it is no longer limited to the town's church but has become a part of every home. Now, all the houses are decorated with fruits, vegetables, rice stalks, rice grains, flowers and all sorts of agricultural harvests. The harvests are specifically displayed in front of the house so that the parish priest could bless them as he would pass by during the procession.
Residents also make a colorful, leaf-shaped rice wafers, locally known as “kiping.” The dyed kiping is usually sewn together to form a wreath and these wreaths are arranged into a two- or three-layer chandelier, called an “aranya,” which are hung on the windows. Different leaves are also used to add flavor to the kiping. There are also those who produce a variety of tastes and textures by using other ingredients like coffee, cocoa and banana leaves.
Every house and family try to outdo one another in their decorations. There's an annual competition for the most colorful, most creative and most attractive décor. Once a winner has been declared, these edible decorations are thrown away to the huge crowd as free treats. Some houses also cook the kipings into rice ships.
The festival's highlight is a street procession featuring the image of San Isidro Labrador and his wife, Sta. Maria dela Cabeza. The santa's image carries a basket full of triangulo biscuits, given to the children present during the procession. Adding interest to the procession are giant papier mâché figures of a local farmer and his wife. After the procession, the townspeople enjoy a joyous sharing pf food.
Tourists visiting Lucban to witness the Pahiyas Festival do not consider their experience complete without having tasted the town's delicious specialties: the Pancit Habhab and the Longganisang Lucban. The pancit habhab is a kind of noodle made from rice flour and is sold on the streets on a piece of banana leaf. The Longganisang Lucban is a local sausage made of ground pork, paprika, oregano extract, salt, pepper and garlic.
The Pahiyas Festival has, without doubt, made Lucban a must-see destination during the summer, especially for tourists exploring the Philippines' multicultural and multifaceted character.