Philippine Traditions

There seems to be a festival in every region of the Philippines.  Provinces have several festivals in different locations.  I have much to learn about them.  Again, rather than me telling you what the Philippines are like, I’m asking you to help me and others.

Traditions, Central Part of Philippine Culture

Now one thing I’ve noticed is, many times, Filipino are oblivious to the traditions that are different from their own.  The country is a group of islands, known as archipelago.   In my last post, I spoke of traditions that Jessie (my GF) told me about in her hometown of Tacloban.  When she learned that others had never seen the same kinds of things, she found it hard to believe. Other Filipino, found it just as hard to believe about her heritage.

Who knows how things developed so differently.  I do have one possibility that came to mind.  Jessie comes from the Waray-Waray tribe.  Much of Tacloban is the same.  Their roots go way back, hundreds if not thousands of years.  The Waray-Waray are known as the warrior tribe.  I’ve been told to watch out because they are the “red heads” of the Philippines.  Jessie though, she’s like me, stubborn as a mule, but she’s much more mellow than I am.  Pretty even tempered but she may pretend to agree with you.  Hmmm, Women in the states do that too.  She’s just more quiet about it. LOL  She reminds me so much of me just quieter and a lot better looking.

Anyway, she mentioned that the Filipino mountain people come into town in search of gifts on Christmas day.   This is what she knows.  She participated in it as a child herself.  Going door to door for gifts.  People coming to her door and even a bit picky about the gifts they received.

I’m guessing, that the mountain people performed some kind of service to the towns people in ancient times.  Maybe they were the look outs for other tribes coming into their territory.  Perhaps they provided protection or food while the people in the cities may have had it a bit easier.

In most areas of the Philippines, it seems that the people providing the more difficult services for you commonly ask for Christmas gifts by leaving envelopes.    Such as trash men.  This somewhat fits with what I’m speculating about above.  It is sheer speculation.  I would love to take some university history courses here but with only a tourist visa that is not possible it would also put further demands on my limited funds. :)

When you stop to think about it there are good reasons for there to be so many different traditions.  Until very recently, travel between the islands was very limited.  Even today, many people never leave their Island unless they are on one of the many very small islands.

It has helped to keep families close as well.  There are at least 12 major languages of the Philippines.  So that is another condition that separates Filipino by area.  We generally think in words.  Ability to communicate is critical in sharing of culture and information.   Jessie can get by in Cebu but many times she doesn’t understand a word that is said to her.  She speaks waray-waray and the main language in Cebu Province is Cebuano.  Even the language of Cebuano has many different names.  I’ve seen expats teach her words here.  Where a word from where she comes from is in both languages, they have different meanings in each place.

I’ve come to the conclusion that when a Filipino tells you how life is in the  Philippines, you might not want to take that and apply it to the entire country.  Even Catholicism which dominates in most areas does not dominate the culture in the extreme southern part of the country.  In some places Islam dominates as much there as Catholicism does in the majority of the country.

While the basics of the traditions will usually be the same, that is all Christians celebrate Christmas, they may have different ways of doing it.  The Philippines are rich in culture and I look forward to exploring many parts of the Island to learn as much as I can first hand.  Until then, I’ll be asking and expecting many different answers, sometimes conflicting.  This conflict is creating the richness.

It would be helpful if you could tell me when festivals happen in your area and what they are intended to celebrate.  All the history you can provide and send me a direct message so you can send a picture or two if you have them.

Post Author: Rusty Ferguson (42 Posts)

Rusty Ferguson is an American Expat living in Bogo, Cebu.

How to Move to the Philippines Manual


  1. says

    Hi Rusty;
    I’m really interested in this too; I have done business following festival circuits in Australia, it’s much easier to get comprehensive information there than here.
    Googling the subject got me to this site:

    It only has 3 pages of events across the year and the country though so there’s no way it’s anywhere near complete.

    The next big thing in San Antonio Zambales is the local round of ‘Miss Gay’ ! the winner of which goes on to compete nationally. Apparently this was one of the 1st towns in the RP to join the Miss Gay circuit and therefore it is famous as being very competitive.
    Funny that in Australia Manny Pacquiou is unknown but Miss Gay Philippines gets TV every year.

  2. Phil R. says

    Yes i do agree with you Rusty ..Different people have different meanings need to watch what you say, to who you say it to,too ….. I was informed that the reason the people would come down from the mountains in my area was that some of their relatives lived there so they would come down and visit their relatives and get things from them and at Christmas they received gifts so now it is a custom.. My wife told me that we had to buy some small gifts for the relatives that come down from the mountain ……….and in the middle of Febuary the city of Gingoog has a big birthday party for the first born son of a judge of the mountain .. it’s a big festival in the town ..lots of food and live bands ,,been to one so far ..??? Phil n Jess ..P S i shot a doe this year 180 lbs…

  3. says

    Hi Rusty

    Right now I am in San Fernando, La Union. This past Friday they had a food festival. Many of the area hotels had a booth selling food. There was also entertainment. That is probably not the type of festival you want to hear about though. But as I like to eat I found it quite enjoyable. :)

  4. says

    Hi Rusty – When you mention the “extreme Southern Philippines” I am not sure if you mean all of Mindanao, part of the island or what, so my comment may or may not be helpful in your quest to understand the culture in the south.

    Indeed, Catholicism is quite dominant in most of Mindanao, as it is up north. Muslims only make up a relatively small percentage of the population of the island of Mindanao, maybe 25% or so, perhaps a bit less. Now, if you go into the ARMM provinces, then the Muslim population is much larger, but the ARMM only makes up a small amount of Mindanao.

    One other thing – for keeping up with Festivals in the Philippines, you can check and they list upcoming festivals for each month, at the beginning of the month. I find their listings to be fairly accurate and complete.

  5. says

    Thanks for the link Chris. Are the people in the know trying to keep the events to themselves? I ask because I tried to partner with a travel agent that I business with every two months and will be doing much more with. She didn’t even answer my email. When I sent her a text, she said she did get it but just wont speak of it at all.

    Am I off based on this? Does each travel agent hold all their information close? I should be a travel agent, great way to write off your trips. :)

    That may be why I didn’t find much when I Googled it or maybe I didn’t trust the data to be current. I don’t recall. I have discovered that Google will get you different results for where you are located which sucks cause I need to see what the US and Europe is presented with. If I’m getting mostly PH sites then that might explain why when I Google I didn’t find anything I felt was reliable. It was a few months ago though. Seems like the site you gave me would come up though This site one would think was still reliable.

  6. says

    Hey Phil, I knew there had to be a reason. I nearly got my head handed to me last week for saying the custom even happened. LOL

    How you say things is also important. At the Cebu North Terminal one of the workers asked me where i was going and I said Bogo. Pronounce that as an American normally would, it means stupid. The guy looked at me like has going to jump me. Then he smiled and said it is okay and said aww Bogo. I never knew till much later I had said stupid. LOL

    I also called a bunch of Filipino children a bunch of beautiful Japanese when I tried to say Good afternoon. Again, the slight change in pronunciation change is the difference between Japanese and afternoon. :)

    Learn as I go. I finally found an audio book on Cebuano but now my PC is dead. The backlight on my 6 year old notebook is out. I may go out and buy a monitor for it. They are a bit more expensive (about $50) more than I think they should be.

  7. says

    Thanks Ray, all information is good. What I want to see the most are those where they wear the customs of their ancestors but I’ll add it to my spreadsheet. :)

  8. says

    Bob, what is ARMM? I don’t know where I’m talking about. Read about it in a local paper where in the Philippines, the culture there is as much Muslim as the rest of the Philippines is Catholic.

    What about Gen. Santos, not sure I’m even spelling that right.

  9. Mike K. says

    Bob-Like you, I have been to several places within the ARMM (infact, I am in the ARMM as I type this). I do know a foreigner that lives in Zamboanga City, Zamboanga Sibugay. At the same time I also know several foreigners that have visited Zamboanga. The city it’s self is very beautiful and friendly. Ha-ha I’m not to crazy about their airport but the rest of the city is nice.

    Rusty- I do enjoy attending all of the fiesta’s. I have gone to several barangays and city fiestas. There are many different traditions, beliefs and ways of living. Not only from Island to island and Province to Province. I have also noticed several differences just going from one town to the next.

    Perhaps I missed it somewhere in your articles. Where in the RP do you live? Myself, I lived in Marilou, Bulacan (03-05) and currently live in Bohol (05- until my bones turn into white sand)

  10. queeniebee says

    Rusty, I ‘m not sure if you are making a distinction between town fiestas or special festivals in different towns and cities in the Philippines. As far as town fiestas go, each city or town has a town fiesta each year to celebrate, praise and give thanks for patron saint. Santo Nino festivals celebrate the baby Jesus and are particularly found in the visayas region but also in Luzon and elsewhere. In towns, barangays also have their individual patron saints and have a barangay or barrio fiesta once a year. Fiestas are often announced to the townspeople with the help of a band, and there is always a procession parading the town or barangay saint through the town with a special mass and lots of eating and drinking and general merrymaking. People that can afford to host family members and friends will open up their home to relatives and friends near and far and if you’re lucky you might be invited to several homes to eat on that day.
    As far as famous festivals in various regions, I think that many of them have a religious significance and some have been also created as a way of creating tourism and income.
    I think you’ll find that filipinos are still quite clannish when it comes to whether they come from Luzon, Visayas or Mindanao and often are unaware of festivals in other areas and not particularly interested. Town pride, region pride and sense of place I observe are very important to filipinos.

  11. Richard D says

    Hi Rusty,
    February 21 thru 27 is Tagum City, Davao del Norte, Mindinao’s Musikahan festival which celebrates all forms of Filipino music. This is a more of a tourist type festival with bands coming from all over the country. I haven’t been to it yet, but My fiancée always likes it. You can read more about it on their web site.

  12. Sandra says

    Hi Rusty.

    The different festivities of every town, city or island in the Philippines are no different from the many different diverse festivals in the US. Each town, city or county in the US oftentimes have their specific celebration whether they are religious based, sporting event or just tradition. Examples here in California are: The Gilroy Garlic Festival in Gilroy California, The Annual Hollywood Christmas Parade, The Rose Parade in Pasadena, followed by a college football game at the Rose Bowl, and many more (I think there are barbecue festivals in the South and Sausage festivals in the Mid-West) but you get the picture. Many of the “smaller” events in the US are not even known to the whole population (as you can tell from the very little events I know living here in Southern California).

    In the Philippines, they are somehow the same albeit, they are more religious based: There is the FLORES DE MAYO (Flowers of May) event that happen every May in many parts of the country, PISTA NG SAN JUAN (Feast of St. John – the baptist) where many people participate in splashing water (sometimes from unknown sources) to celebrate John the Baptist – a catholic saint, then there are also many unknown festivals that happen per city and town. I’ve seen festivals that proudly promote a city’s famous sausage in Lucban, Quezon Province.

    So you see, it’s not any different from the many festivities that many people around the world celebrate. The very obvious reason I see in the Philippines when it comes to Christmas time is that people become extremely generous towards their less fortunate countrymen thus a trend of donation-seeking, alm-asking and simply expecting something in return for a good service started to become common and accepted – not by tradition or cultural history but more because of poverty and the chance to get a piece of the generosity that most citizens have towards their brethren.

    Hope this helps a bit.

  13. Mike K. says

    Rusty- By the way my brother shares your name… Let me know how you come out with the travel agent thing. I am also in the process of becoming an online agent. Maybe, we should compare some notes.

    Bob- This is true… But most people believe that Zamboanga is part of the ARMM. Basilan to Zamboanga City is achieved by bout is a matter of a short trip. We will keep the true beauty of Zambo to ourselves (;

  14. roy says

    Philippine traditions in mounting festivals etc are essentially religious based. A town fiesta celebrates its founding establishment in honor of its patron saint. The execution of its commemoration is where it varies. If a saint is said to have appeared by the river, town people would decide to hold a fluvial festival, etc. Quite recently, local govt units realize the income potential of mounting festivals showcasing their predominant crops, livelihood etc. In Baguio City, they have this monstrous Flower Festival. In Balayan, Batangas, they have this Parada ng Lechon festival. I’m not sure if this honors a particular saint who likes lechon or who apperaed as a lechon–I don’t know. In San Pablo City, Laguna, they have Coco Festival. It’s street dancing where it involves school children using anything coconut as their costumes. Some local govt units who lack creativity pander into the taste of international tourists come up w/ all kinds of ati-atihan. Never mind if it strictly has no historical basis to their location.

    I can imagine the same thing goes to the south. I know there’s Lanzones Festival in Camiguin. As the festival’s name denotes, it’s a celebration of its good harvest of lanzones, presumably.

    Why we may not get this information in the internet the way we google festivals in the US or Ozz? Duh. :-) I have read the travel section of the Chicago Tribune for 5 years. The big thing in its press releases are how to stretch the dollar in places that are not very expensive. They offer 5 south east asian must-visits. Never has been the Philippines featured. So I’m not surprised if none of the Phil festivals could be googled. Blogs like these could though. :-)

    BTW, Chris, what’s w/ the fascination w/ the Ms Gay there? :-)

  15. says

    Awww, I remembered the term ARMM but I thought it was a memorandum so I guess i didn’t fully know what it was before. I thought it was the name off the agreement that Arroyo had made with that area. I never knew the exact area I also thought it was null and void after the supreme courts ruling.

    I never thought all of Mindanao was Muslim, the first Filipina I met and got close to was from Dipolog, the little scammer. LOL She was very cute but she never scammed me for money. I was famous on a video chat network and she wanted some of that fame. Knowing and be close to me made her feel better about her. Not the usual scam of Filipina. She never asked me for money but she was married and had a child. Little liar had me wrapped around her finger. That doesn’t just happen in the Philippines. I’m just a sucker for women. I can laugh about it now. I know an expat in CDO which I can’t pronounce nor am I interested in learning really when CDO is so well known and easy. LOL

    From what I know right NOW I would NOT go to ARMM, however, I’m willing to be educated. There is a map of ARMM on Wikipedia and an article. I haven’t read the article yet. So is the Philippine government unofficially going along with the treaty or agreement or whatever it is called.

    Why do you feel safe going into areas where there are so many kidnappings. Am I safe if I stay out of the mountains, which I guess is the wise thing to do any where. And that just sucks because Highway 1 runs through the mountains and I’ve seen many trails that I had hoped to get a dirt bike and go up. Probably more danger from me on a dirt bike than from communist. :)

    I’ve even had Filipina from Zamboanga tell me it is unsafe for an American to take a boat to Malaysia but told me it was safe for me to go to Zamboanga and that the talk of danger there was just hearsay and inaccurate. I remember when on American tried to fake his disappearance after getting a room in the area. At first I thought that was proof there was danger, then it came out he staged his disappearance as was up north with his Filipina girlfriend. He owed someone money.

    I know your very smart, very knowledge about the Philippines but you’re logic and knowledge are not perfect so you could be wrong. And I see people getting kidnapped from those areas. I think Davao is okay but the west and south are a roll of the dice.

    I’m getting so much conflicting information from both locals and expats that it is hard for me to know what is accurate and what is wishful thinking, something ALL of us are quite capable of doing. I know when it comes to Filipina, I’m an easy target cause I have so much wishful thinking.. LOL Luckily I found one of the many good ones.

    I know you believe what your telling me about safety, you’re probably right but I can’t reconcile it all. At least not yet. I guess I should keep my mouth shut and just agree but that’s never been my forte, so why try to change now. :)

  16. says

    Mike K,

    I am in Bogo City, chances are good I will stay here. I may go to Bantayan Island though. Probably once Bogo City expands too much for my taste. I will continue to call it a city. It is one of those that was demoted last month by the supreme court. Since it is home to me, I kind of act like the rest of the Pinoy and take much pride in Bogo being a City so it is still a city to me. The supreme court has hinted it will reverse itself but I see a lot opposition from other cities and Philippine Legislature so they may end up not doing that.

    Cebu City probably make you more likely to be a victim of crime than most any where in Mindanao but I’m just not convinced that it is safe, especially when one considers the type of crime.

    You see, I’m the most unlucky person in the world and if something is going wrong in an area, its likely to come looking for me. :)

    I’m dying to get over to Bohol. I’m still rebuilding my life so lots of things I need right now. And if the dollars doesn’t stop acting like a freaking rock I’m gong to be broke again very soon. When it goes below P47 it starts really eating into my funds. I haven’t checked it today. I need to go do that.:)

  17. says

    Thanks Roy, I missed the Festival here in Bogo last year as my girlfriend was sick. She’s very shy but she likes the festivals and gets excited about them.

    The street dancing with native costumes is what I REALLY want to see and photograph. I’m trying to stay debt free but if I get enough credit to get a Nikon of Canon SLR, CHARGE!!!!!!!!!!!!!! LOL My camera are more than five years old. They are having issues.

    I want to go to the big Cebu City festival this year but I’m going to have to put it off a year. Going and coming the same day is rough. But someone here said they might have a place for me to stay so I might be able to do it after all. I hope so. He’s even trying to bring me some Nestle’s Quick. LOL I use to survive off that rather than eat Lost a lot of weight doing that.. Dang I miss Kroger (a mostly southern grocery store chain in the USA)

  18. says

    thanks for the awesome info. I’m a little slow getting around right now due to the monitor on my notebook dying. I need to wait till next month before i get an external monitor.

    its time for a new article but so far, I don’t know what I’m going to write about. I know, I could write about someone donating a $1500 camera to me because I’m so wonderful. :)

    I keep telling Bob, I’m an ARTEESSSTTTT, I cannot be rushed…. LOL

    That “gay festival” sounds fun, flamboyant gays are funny but I’m laughing with them, not at them. It would suck to be gay here with so many pretty Filipina. LOL

  19. Mike K. says


    Come on over for a visit. If you can make plans around my hectic schedule. I would be more then happy to show you around this little piece of heaven. I will even tell you where the NPA is before we pass thru those area’s. (Ha-ha, I just had to throw that in). Will be a while before I am back in Bohol so you have plenty time to get everything in order.

    As for the USD/PHP exchange rate I am feeling the effects of it as well.

    Bob, I am in region 9 now. LOL anyone ever notice I never tell my exact location? I only give the region.

  20. says

    Mike, yea I know the dollar goes down in Dec because of the large number or remittances sent from OFW’s but there is a lot of downward pressure out there. Last time I checked it was below 47. :(

    I understand, correctly or incorrectly, that the NPA isn’t too much of a threat to forigners unless you’re a government employee from another country. True?

    I’m really into wildlife and the outdoors so Bohol appeals to me. I actually found some MINI chocolate hills in Bogo a few months back. Old dirt road, lots of dead coral. It probably wasn’t that great of place for me to be.

    I wanted to go much deeper into the area but it was getting late and my old large body was getting worn out by those hills LOL I didn’t feel threatened by anyone but I had an uneasy feeling. Perhaps i should listen to that. I don’t want to though. :)

  21. Mike K. says


    The Peso is definitely going down now. That is true the NPA typically doesn’t disturb foreigners. Bohol is a great place for the outdoors type. That is one thing I love about the place. I can show you most of the places that attract people and some of the truly beautiful places that are unknown to most people outside of the ones that live there. In particular a set of falls in Candijay that few people know of… Only accessible by motorcycle/walking.

  22. says

    Mike, I hope you’ll stay in touch. Sounds perfect except it has been about 30 years since I’ve been on a motor. Oh geesh, even longer than that. I can’t be that freaking old. :) Soon as I get this furniture I bought paid off (60% interest) I will get a bike, after I save for it. No more 60% interest for me, thank you. :) Then I can teach myself to ride a scooter. I have a Harley heart but a scooter brain. LOL

  23. Lon Ramirez says

    Thanks a lot Sir Rusty for sharing the culture and tradition of Filipino’s in your place now. Thanks also to Sir’s Chris and Bob for the link. I need a writings about our traditons just to guide me of those i will write to help my son in his school requirements.
    Be blessed, be safe and be cool always, thanks again.

  24. Lon Ramirez says

    Human being created unique in each own way. Differs from nation, races, cultures and traditions. We are hailed in the northern part of the country.
    Here in our place, our grandparents are too strict regarding the traditions they inherited from their forefathers, such as:

     When six o’clock bell rangs, all of the family members should gather together in front of the altar to pray;
     After prayer, during visitation, children should kiss the hand of the old;
     In courting, “harana” (singing with guitar accompaniment outside the house of the lady) is common in the provinces;
     In time of meal, if one is leaving, all the plates where all the members are using should be turned/moved round;
     During wake, member of the family should not take a bath nor clean the place, for they said one will follow or die again;
     One of the province in the North, after wedding, the couple will dance and each relative will pinned billes of any denominations for the couple will use to start their family;

    Traditions differ as per location, a lot more. Wish these lists will add/update the knowledge of other people.

  25. says

    That’s awesome stuff Lon. Hmm now bath during a wake, oh my, I’d have to break tradition on that. :)

    Do you also have the tradition that someone comes in an cleans while the family is at the burial? My GF’s family did that when her aunt died.

    I like the dancing for money tradition and I’m sure the new couple could use it!

    Thanks for sharing this.

    I’ve been thinking of giving my GF a hard time by asking her to bless me whenever she comes back She makes her boys do it. I have wondered if couples ever do that. I don’t really intend to do it, wonder what she would do, probably laugh, she’s one of the few people that understands my sense of humor.

  26. says

    Well I’m certainly her elder. I just want to see the look on her face when I hold my hand out to her. :)

    We have a very playful relationship, she understands me better than anyone else has. We both have the same wicked sense of humor. When most people think I’m being mean, she knows what I’m doing.

    When I first got here, she’s spout out some orders and I’d burst into laughing and tell her I so deserve you. We are very much alike. I’m surprised she hasn’t held her hand out to me. Since she often reads this and I think she did today, she already knows my plans. Grrrrrr. She hasn’t read in a while. I can’t get her to post. I’ve been trying on any site.

  27. says

    Darn it, she hasn’t read the blog here for a week or more as she’s been obsessed on these “free” games that has made a mess out of her PC.

    i held the back off my hand out and she looked at me and said “what is that” and I laughed and asked if she had read it. LOL

    She had, I tried a few minutes later and she tried to slap my hand. I guess I’m not making much progress on this. About what I expected. I lost the element of surprise though, darn it. I was hoping for a dirty look. Then burst out laughing when she did it. Always disarms a person if you think their dirty looks are funny. :) Probably only I would think that way.

  28. says

    Hi Rusty – ARMM is the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. It is an Autonomous area that is operated by a Muslim government. The area consists of Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Basilan (not including Isabela City, though), Sulu and Tawi Tawi Provinces. This area (most of it anyway) is about 90%+ Muslim, and yes, of course the culture is Muslim. This is only a small part of Mindanao, though. Yes, you are spelling General Santos City correctly. By the way, General Santos is not part of the ARMM, nor is it even near the ARMM provinces.

    I have personally visited every part of the ARMM, except for the Province of Sulu. Right now, Sulu is the most dangerous Province in the Philippines. I will visit there, but I have to wait until the time is right, and until people that I know there advise me that the timing is good. Every part of the ARMM that I have visited has been friendly, and very interesting places to visit. I have been to most parts of the ARMM multiple times, and I always enjoy my visits there. Probably one of the most interesting parts of the ARMM, in my opinion, is Marawi City, the Islamic City of the Philippines. Culturally, Marawi is amazing, and is rarely visited by foreigners. I’ve been there three times now, and learned something new on each of my visits there.

    Other parts of Mindanao, though, including General Santos City, are very much the same or similar to the rest of the Philippines.

  29. says

    Hi Mike – keep in mind, though… Zamboanga City, and all of the Zamboanga Provinces are not part of the ARMM, though. The closest areas of the ARMM to Zambo would be Basilan to Zamboanga City, and Lanao del Sur to Zamboanga del Sur.

  30. says

    Hi Mike K. – Yeah, when I went to Basilan, I took a fast craft from Zamboanga, it’s about an hour trip. Zamboanga City, tagged as “Asia’s Latin City” is truly a jewel that is often overlooked!

  31. says

    Hi Mike K. – When I am traveling, I never disclose where I am going ahead of time. I usually don’t even disclose that I am going on a trip. After I get back, then I write about it. I feel safe all over Mindanao, but it’s never bad to play it safe.

  32. says

    Hi Rusty – You make me laugh when you mention about making your GF do Mano Po to you! If she did that, you really couldn’t be a couple anymore, as it is a sign of respect for an elder, but would never be done between couples! 😆

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