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Festival Location: Philippines, Kalibo, Iloilo, Cebu and Bacolod
Article Title: Mardi Gras the Philippine Style
by: © Eva Goyena 2003

If you want more active weekends but tired of sporty adventures, why not try joining festivities and street party celebrations. With this type of weekend getaway, you sure will not just appreciate the art but be able to immerse yourself in the culture as well.

New Orleans is not the only home of Mardi Gras, there are four of them right here in the Philippines, with our own unique styles and ethnic origins. You can have your fill of Mardi Gras sights and sounds in four festivals held in the Southern part of the country ---the Ati-Atihan in Kalibo, Aklan celebrated every January 14 to 16; Iloilo’s Dinagyang from January 17 to 23; the Sinulog of Cebu City every January 23; and the Masskara Festival of Bacolod City every October 19. An hour or less journey by plane will get you to any of these destinations safe and sound. A place to stay would never be a problem if you are a "cowboy" type willing to stay in cheap hotels or hostels. During the festival week clever tourists who take reservations early already fill in first-rate hotels. So if you are not too daring to take chances the best thing to do is to contact the local tourism office and ask help in choosing your accommodations.

Popular enough to be regular destinations of both foreign and domestic tourists, the mood in these towns ---Kalibo, Iloilo, Cebu and Bacolod ---on those particular days of every year goes from calm to frenzied.

Wild colors, ingenious choreography and powerful drumbeats fill the streets in the daylong to weeklong celebrations. These festivals, except for the Masskara, pay homage to the Santo Niño with parades and dancing. Painted bodies, dressed up drums and props, and the peculiar rhythmic step are considered a mixture of various influences from pagan to Islamic to Christian.

Competition of different joining groups or tribus (as they are called in Dinagyang) adds to the excitement of the feasts as they are judged based on the creativity of their costume, dance and sounds, and the over-all performance.

In Masskara, the best features of the parade are the colorful smiling and happy masks of varied designs from which the festival gets its name (the word "mass" which means people and Spanish word "kara", meaning faces). The rest of the festivals are noted for the soot-painted bodies elaborately decorated with anything from seashells to local materials.

In crowd participation, Ati-Atihan emerges first. In a sort of wild parade, the dancers with their rehearsed choreography and the spectators with their spontaneous steps form a "conga-line" that disjoins and rejoins from time to time until the whole town becomes part of the dancing line.

Dinagyang on the other hand has no participation by onlookers since the emphasis of the parade is the actual performance of drummers and dancers while they perform in different judging points. Sinulog’s dance ritual moves two steps forward and one step backward to the rhythm of drumbeats resembling the current (sulug for the Cebuanos) of Cebu’s Pahina River.

These Mardi-gras festivals are considered by some as purely religious occasions with all their symbolism while others may look at them as wholly joyful celebrations. No matter what you call them, these festivals share one thing in common ---they are all worth traveling for!

If you plan to come to any of these festivals and your only available vacation days are weekends, make sure to check out the dates. If you cannot catch the whole celebration (if it’s a weeklong event), the best time to join in a Philippine festival is on its last two days. It is when the winners of all the competitions are announced, and the most stunning presentations take place.

Where and When:
The Ati-Atihan in Kalibo, Aklan celebrated every January 14 to 16; Iloilo’s Dinagyang from January 17 to 23; the Sinulog of Cebu City every January 23; and the Masskara Festival of Bacolod City every October 19. The towns of Kalibo, Iloilo, Cebu and Bacolod are in the Philippines

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