Pahiyas Festival of Lucban, Quezon

By Annie G. Cuevas

IT’S THE merry month of May again and it signals the start of the Festival Season in the Philippines. One of the more popular festivals of the month will be held on May 15 in the town of Lucban in Quezon Province.

Called the Pahiyas Festival, the merry-making is also held simultaneously in the Quezon towns of Tayabas and Sariaya, but visitors flock to Lucban where the tradition started and where the climate is cooler and the sights better.

Pahiyas festival started in the 16th century as a thanksgiving to the bountiful harvest enjoyed by the people in the previous planting season. It was originally a pagan harvest festival, but it is now commemorated in honor of San Isidro Labrador, the patron saint of farmers, peasants, laborers who used to be a farmer in Madrid.

Legend says white oxen magically plowed his fields whenever he went to church. Spaniards passed on the legend to the Philippines. San Isidro Labrador was also the patron saint of agriculture in Mexico who was called upon by the people to ensure the abundant supply of water and fertility of the land.

During the festival, houses are elaborately decorated with different fruits, vegetables, hats, baskets, paper-mache and kipings. Kiping is leaf-shaped wafers made of rice and dyed in brilliant colors. Leaves used in kipings include the kabal, kape (brown coffee tree leaf), talisay (umbrella tree), kakaw (cocoa tree), and saba (cooking banana). People say the procedure in making the kiping is a secret and only the chosen ones are entrusted to make it.

Each house would compete for the Grand Pahiyas Prize and when the day turns into night, the brightest and the most lighted house wins the “Kutitap Award” – suddenly transforming the entire town into a Christmas village in the middle of May.

According to local folk, the practice started when farmers offered foods at the foot of the sacred Mount Banahaw. Later, the food offerings were brought to the church where the priest blessed them. They later decided to display the harvests in their houses and the priest, walking with the image of the patron saint, makes the round to bless them.

The Pahiyas Festival has brought tourists to Lucban and Quezon province. While it remains the biggest tourist attraction in the town, there are other worthy spots that visitors can enjoy in the town. Here are some of them:

Kamay ni Hesus Shrine – Located at the foot of Mt. Banahaw, every pilgrim experiences inner joy, peace and warmth upon visiting the shrine. Kamay ni Hesus Shrine is a favorite destination for pilgrims and tourists not only during the holy week but during the whole year.

Marcos Tigla Park  – The park, formerly known as Paseo Rizal, was named after the legendary founder and first Governadorcillo of Lucban. The park houses fine monuments and other structures, including the Idyll of the Sea and the Fountain of Wisdom, which symbolize a mother transferring wisdom to her son.

Lucban Church — This is the very church where Pahiyas originated. It started when locals began to offer a portion of their harvest to the parish church as their thanksgiving to St. Isidro Labrador. The present church sits on the ruins of the previous churches on the same site. The first one was built in 1595 and was destroyed in 1629, and a second church was constructed between 1630 and 1640 but was seriously damaged by fire 1738. The present church was completed in 1738 and the convent in 1743.

La Casa de Doña Ana — The house, which was owned then by Pedro Nepomuceno y Villaseñor and Ana Maria Herrera y de la Concepcion, was built in a neoclassical style a few years after the couple’s wedding in 1842. The house was subsequently named in honor of the wife for her role in establishing Hospicio de Pobres de Lucban, a facility taking care of Lucban’s destitute and sick.

Before leaving Lucban, don’t forget to take home a dozen of Lucban longanisa, budin (cassava cake), fried siopao, pancit habbab, and lambanog.

(Ms. Annie Cuevas-Lim is regional director of the Philippine Department of Tourism-Los Angeles Office.)