There are so many festivals in the Philippines and almost all provinces, cities or even municipalities have their own depending on the traditions, religious devotions or products that they want to feature. But for January? There are only four must-go-to festivals and all these are focused on the devotion to the Sto. Nino, or the Holy Child.
While the central devotion is in Cebu City, the island of Panay, specifically the provinces of Iloilo and Aklan have their own and are based from the pre-hispanic, 13th century, Barter of Panay oral tradition (check here). The ati-ati term means to be like an Ati and thus revelers blacken themselves, dress and dance like the traditional Ati tribe. These were later Christianized.
Do note though that both the Dinagyang and Sinulog are a bit commercialized and participants are usually different contingents. Whereas the ati-atihans in Kalibo and Ibajay, you can actually see people not part of the tribes participate with their own costumes and dancing.
These are great and interesting festivals. Unfortunately, you can only cover two at any given year. Find out why below.
1 Ati-atihan Festival (Kalibo, Aklan)
This is the mother of all Philippine festivals. The Ati-atihan in Kalibo, like the other smaller festivals celebrated in Aklan (Makato, Boracay, Ibajay) is such a boisterous celebration with toned down commercialism. Although the route is shorter compared with the Dinagyang and Sinulog, it just has a different and authentic vibe to it. Happens every third Sunday of January concurrent with the Sinulog.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE THERE It’s so colorful and costumes are quite elaborate and interesting (although this only developed recently). People from all walks of life participate as part of their devotion and to have fun. It’s not only during the street dancing that you have to experience this festival but the pre ati-atihan revelry nights are equally, if not one of the best parties in a fiesta.
2 Ati-ati Festival (Ibajay, Aklan)
The municipality of Ibajay is between Kalibo and Caticlan and in terms of the ati-ati festival, is one of the most authentic.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE THERE This might be how the Kalibo Ati-atihan was celebrated many many years ago. The costumes are less elaborate but the same authentic vibe is there. Curiously, people usually bring seafood like crabs, fish and prawns, grilled or fried chicken and pork tied to sticks or poles as part of the revelry. Happens every fourth Sunday of January concurrent with the Dinagyang.
READ MORE: Rowdy fun in Ibajay’s Ati-ati Festival
3 Dinagyang Festival (Iloilo City)
Started in the late 60s with the arrival of a replica of the Sto. Nino de Cebu, the then simple dancing and festivities were limited to the San Jose Church grounds, the enclave of the Augustinian Order. In the late 70s, the Dinagyang was officially recognized as an Iloilo festival. Happens every fourth Sunday of January.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE THERE Costumes are elaborate and presentations have storylines even incorporating the Hinilawod, the traditional oral epic of the Panay Bukidnon tribe. Other than the colors and festive dances, you get to see along the festival route beautiful old architecture: art deco, streamline modern, international styles that the city is known for.
READ MORE: Colorful, wonderful Dinagyang Festival!
4 Sinulog Festival, Cebu City
The Sinulog Festival was organized in the 80s as the city of Cebu celebrates the feast of the Sto. Nino whose devotion is centered at the Basilica Minor del Sto. Nino, an 18th century heritage structure. Sinulog means like the movement of the waves that describes the ritual dance offered by devotees at the basilica: two step forward, one step backward. Happens every third Sunday of January.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE THERE Other than the elaborate, colorful costumes with varied influences and inspirations during the Sinulog street dancing, of course, it’s the biggest party in Cebu and you don’t want to be left behind!
READ MORE: The Sinulog Mardi Gras: Lost in Translation