The town comes alive in the month of May, on the feast of San Isidro Labrador, the patron saint of harvest. The streets of Lucban transform for a day or two as the houses are decorated with colorful kipings and agricultural products of Quezon. Agricultural adornments have made Lucban’s Pahiyas Festival unique and different from the rest. The highlight of this celebration is every May 15.
Definitely, Pahiyas should be included in your bucket list of Philippine Festivals. There is nothing like it anywhere in the country. The festival is an expression of thanks and a celebration of bounty. It is that time of the year where townsfolk gather to celebrate in the hopes of having another bountiful harvest for the next 12 months.
How to prepare to experience Pahiyas?
Always plan with the date, May 15, in mind. You may opt to commute or drive down to Lucban. But since this festival attracts so many people, there is much difficulty in finding a parking space near the town proper, not to mention the heavy traffic in the major highways leading to Lucban. Expect road blocks at the Lucban-Tayabas Road. People are expected to walk from the intersection near Southern Luzon State University to the town hall.
An early morning bus trip may be the most common option for tourists. You have the option though to look for van tours that offer Lucban-Pahiyas trip. This is what we availed to get to Lucban and by choice, it might be the most practical one.
The call time for this trip was 3am. We left Quezon Avenue past 4am and hit the highway passing thru Masinag, Antipolo, Tanay and Pililla. The day tour managed to include a quick stop to the windfarm in Pililla a little after sunrise, giving us a great view of Metro Manila and Taal Lake. From Pililla, we passed by Laguna thru the towns of Paete, Kalayaan and Pagsanjan, reaching Lucban by 9am.
Across the town plaza
A 305 steps up
The Resurrected Christ
We visited Kamay ni Hesus, before we proceeded to the center of the Pahiyas Festival. Kamay ni Hesus (Hands of Jesus) is a pilgrim site located in Brgy. Tinamnan in the outskirts of Lucban. We were not ready for KMH’s 305 steps towards the 50ft statue of the Risen Christ but we managed to reach the top and said our prayers.
From KMH, we finally found ourselves walking toward the epicenter of the Pahiyas Festival.
Longganisa de Lucban
Sidewalks of Quezon Ave (Lucban-Tayabas) Road, have displays of their famous longganisa. Almost every shop is selling this popular ‘pasalubong’ on display hanging from bamboo poles in a glass cabinet. Aside from Lucban Longganisa you might find yourself munching ‘pancit habhab’ in banana leaves.
How the Pahiyas Festival came about?
Pahiyas, they say, traces back to the early Spanish times, when the natives at the foothills of Mt. Banahaw gather and perform a simple celebration and thanksgiving to the Anitos for the harvest of crops and fish. It was their belief that having such a celebration would assure them of another good harvest.
As Christianity progresses in Lucban and the province of Quezon, the church was established and the priests managed to incorporate the celebration with the devotion to San Isidro Labrador. People of Lucban brought some of their harvest to the church. This practice has grown so much through the years, so much that the church could no longer accommodate everyone at one time for the blessing.
San Isidro Labrador, Patron of Farmers
San Luis Opispo de Tolosa Church (Lucban Church)
Everyone agreed to have their harvest displayed in their own houses for the priest to go around to bless them. In a procession, the image of San Isidro Labrador would pass by each house. From a simple display of rice, vegetables and fruits, the decorations have evolved centuries after.
As to how the Kiping (colorful rice wafers) was introduced to this annual celebration of harvest, they say it was due to Juan Suarez, a local of Lucban. At the time of Manila-Acapulco trade, he visited Mexico and was amazed by their tacos (taquitos or barquillos). In his attempt to create the tacos here in the Philippines, he improvised the process and used banana leaves for the ground rice and water mixture.
Colorful kiping (rice wafers)
The tradition of putting the kiping as decoration during the harvest celebration began in the 1960s. The word Pahiyas was from the root word Payas which means to decorate. Pahiyas was first coined by Fernando Nanawa, the founder of Art Club of Lucban. The festival has since been known as the Lucban San Isidro Pahiyas Festival.
It was only when the people of Lucban decided to not only display their produce but decorate their individual houses with kiping and crops that the festival started to draw more local and foreign tourists. Tourism has grown year after year, with the local government unit organizing a decoration contest to ensure that participating houses have colorful and creative displays.
I was fortunate to experience the Pahiyas twice. In a way, I can definitely say that the festival has become more colorful and festive every single time. The decorated houses are mostly a few blocks away from San Luis Obispo Parish Church and parallel to A. Racelis Avenue. Known as the Pahiyas Route, this is also the procession route of San Isidro Labrador.
Grand Prize Winner
Expression of Thanks
The most exciting part of the Pahiyas is right after the procession or immediately after the image of San Isidro passes by the decorated houses. They called it the ‘Kalas’, a struggle between the owners of the decorated house and the tourists. The struggle being the fun effort to bring down the kipings and the pahiyas from the house while the owners struggle to keep the decors from being stripped away. It also symbolically marks how the festival should be: fun, happy and beholden.