Philippine Fiestas During the Pandemic

All year round, you can always expect to see some form of celebration wherever city, province, or baranggay you may be in the Philippines. With over 100 fiestas celebrated around the country annually, there is no question that the Philippines, much like most Asian countries, loves to celebrate their culture and traditions.

However, everything was forced to a halt when the COVID-19 Pandemic happened. The whole world paused and the once glorious and jovial fiestas that were celebrated by Filipinos had to be put on hold. After almost three years of staying at home and adhering to safety protocols, fiestas such as Iloilo’s Dinagyang Festival, Cebu’s Sinulog Festival, and Kalibo’s Ati-atihan Festival have finally returned and ignited the way for 2023. 

Now that the people are looking towards a more unconfined world, how exactly has the pandemic affected fiestas in the Philippines?

Having a population as diverse as the Philippines, you can always look forward to countless fiestas wherever you go. Typically prepared months prior, fiestas consist of a wide array of programs, contests, parades, and acts as an avenue to showcase local culture and traditions. The festivities involve local music, cuisine, arts, and the vibrant souls of each individual. Fiestas have been ingrained deep in the lifeblood of the forever cheery Filipino people for decades past. What happens when that major element of Filipino culture is suddenly taken away from them? Some of the country’s biggest fiestas have made key adjustments in celebrating their festivals during the peak of the pandemic last 2020 to 2022.

Now as we start to step away from the pandemic this 2023 and festivals have been celebrated with more normality, it is clear that the cities and their people are back in high spirits and have brought learnings from the pandemic within their respective celebrations.  

Lockdown restrictions during the pandemic left Filipinos with no choice but to celebrate their fiestas in a limited manner. Safety protocols resulted in more simpler celebrations with significantly less programs, less people on the streets, and overall a more modest way of observing fiestas.

Iloilo City’s Dinagyang Festival was canceled in 2020 due to a spike in Covid-19 cases. In 2021 and 2022, the fiesta was celebrated virtually with an online video stream that lasted for almost four hours. Cebu City’s Sinulog Festival and Kalibo’s Ati-atihan Festival did so as well. No parades and no street-dancing competitions, only spectating and celebrating through a television screen.

Fast forward three years after the first lockdown that was imposed in the Philippines, the Dinagyang, Sinulog, and Ati-atihan festivals were celebrated in full force once more. As the world began to lean towards its normal state, fiestas looked to be back in its vibrant and joyous nature now more than ever.

The pandemic has taught everyone to give a greater emphasis in cleanliness, sanitation, and overall health and safety. Local Government Units urge people to practice safety protocols when participating in festivities, which may be the case for every fiesta in the near future. Besides prioritizing the health and safety of the public, experiencing years in lockdown has brought out something more innate when it comes to Filipinos and fiestas.

Filipinos have gained a significant appreciation of a part of their culture that most may have taken for granted, and a part of their culture that is deeply ingrained in them as a people. What once were traditions that Filipinos were accustomed to celebrating were taken away when they least expected it. Being deprived of the festivities, losing tradition, and finally gaining it back has given them more reason to celebrate in much grander ways.

Now that everything is coming back to what it once was, the people have gained a newfound value not just for fiestas, but their culture as a whole. Fiestas are an intrinsic piece of culture and tradition that can never be lost in Filipinos.

More than the events, the programs, and the colorful display of local culture, each fiesta brings an incomparable feeling of companionship and pride. It is deep-rooted in its people and is something that Filipinos, wherever they are in the world, will continue to search for. 

The pandemic might have hindered them from celebrating, but the spirit of each fiesta will continue to triumph. You can take away Filipinos from the fiesta, but you can never take away the fiesta out of the Filipinos.