As modern as Manila can be, the city – just like every corner of the Philippines – still upholds traditional festivities, street parties, galas, and related occasions. Festivals in Manila are mostly celebrated in honour of religious traditions and historic events, and they attract the most diverse of audiences and spectators every year.
From locals all over Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao (the three major islands of the country) to tourists of different skins and descents, everyone seems to be pulled close to these spirited festivities:
Feast of the Black Nazarene: This occasion is one of the most iconic (if not the most iconic) in Manila. It is a religious celebration for the Black Nazarene, a wooden statue of Christ with black skin.
On the occasion, a large procession is dedicated to the image. The life size statue is paraded on the streets of the city, followed by hundreds of thousands of devotees expecting healing, cleansing of sins and other miracles from the patron. The procession starts and ends at the massive Quiapo Church and has been a long standing tradition since the Spanish occupation.
Ati-Atihan Festival: Much like the one held in Kalibo in the Visayas, this festival portrays the Mardi Gras celebration honouring the image of the young Christ or the Santo Niño. Every year, street parades, religious rituals, dancing, singing and numerous cultural displays are held in different cities in lieu of the real festival, which is held in southern provinces.
Chinese New Year: The Chinese New Year typically falls in month of February. It is a grand celebration celebrated by ‘Chinoys’: a term used to describe Chinese-Filipinos. The Chinese New Year celebration is centred in Manila, where one of the world’s largest Chinatowns is situated. It is interesting to watch the parades in the Binondo District (where the Chinatown is), as well as sample the culinary delights during the festival.
Bamboo Organ Festival: A well kept treasure in Manila’s St Joseph’s Church, the prominent Bamboo Organ has its own festival, featuring musical recitals that hail from almost all eras and genres of music, all played on the impressive instrument.
Philippine International Jazz and Arts Festival: Popularly called the PI JazzFest, this particular cultural event is crowded by Jazz artists, enthusiasts, and people just looking for great music. Throughout the month of March, prime locations around the city (including good restaurants) hold live Jazz concerts and events.
Lent: It is not exactly a festivity, but the Lenten Season is religiously observed throughout the country. During Maundy Thursday, devotees gather together for processions and other lent-related traditions, from ‘pabasas’ to ‘penitensias.’ Services are also held in churches throughout the city.
Flores de Mayo: One of the most colourful months of the year, May is also the season for Flores de Mayo (literally “Flowers of May”), a festival held in honour of the Virgin Mary. This festival involves the famous Santa Cruzan parade, featuring beautiful ladies in traditional gowns with their escorts and entourage of fair maidens. Events are staged throughout the month, while the grand parade is usually scheduled on the last day of May.
Filipino Heritage Festival: This celebration features everything that has got to do with Filipino Culture. The venue is usually the famous Rizal Park and other major spots in the city. The festival encourages music, handicrafts, dance, cuisine and many other cultural tastes and features.
Fiesta de la Musique: Much like the Jazz festival, this music fest is a major event for local talents as well as some international acts. The city stages more than 150 musical acts in a single celebration.
Manila Day: Locally known as ‘Araw ng Maynila,’ this local holiday commemorates the heritage, culture and history of the old city. This day sees numerous events, live music shows, talent contests and food fests all across the city.
Subli-an sa Maynila: A cultural and religious event, this festivity is held in honour of the Holy Cross. The traditional dance ‘Subli’ is used as a ritual to honour the Holy Cross, accompanied by a vocal quartet.
National Heroes Day: This is a national holiday held during the fourth Monday of August to honour the bravery and patriotism of the country’s National Heroes.
Kalesa Festival: This cultural festival is held to pay tribute to the preservation of old fashioned horse-drawn carriages, locally known as kalesas. The celebration also features a lot of musical performances, dancing and singing.
La Naval Festival: This is a notable Catholic event centered on the patron, Our Lady of the Rosary. This festival features a nine-day novena in the Santo Domingo Church, as well as long processions on the streets of Quezon district.
Feast of Nuestra Senora: This festival is held to honour one of the patron saints of Manila, and is hosted in Malate Remedios. The festival features a wide range of events and processions to honour the patron saint.
Christmas season: In Manila as well as the rest of the Philippines, Christmas is not only a one day celebration. From the ‘ber’ months of September to November, you can already see a lot of Christmas bazaars, lively events, nativity scenes, and other Christmas-related traditions. If you are here in December, try the traditional “Simbang Gabi” where you will get to mingle with locals going to church before dawn and enjoy local sweets like the “puto bumbong” right after mass.