Ati-Atihan Festival – Honor of the Santo Niño (Infant Jesus) with Constant Movement, Drumming & Feasting!
The Ati-Atihan Festival is an annual celebration of Baby Jesus in the Philippines! With dancing, food, music and a week of non-stop celebrations, this is a festival you don’t want to miss!
What is Ati-Atihan?
The Ati-Atihan festival is held each year in January. It began as a feast to honor the infant Jesus or Santo Niño in the Philippines. The name of the festival itself translates into “to be like Atis”. The Ati-Atihan festival is held every year in Kalibo, Phillipines and features an incredible showcase of traditional costumes, tribal dances, parades in the street, live music and much more. Though Ati-Atihan is overtly religious, many non-Christians and non-religious people gather together with the whole community to celebrate.
Over the years, the beauty and pageantry of Ati-Atihan has inspired similar festivals across the country and stands as the “Mother of All Philipine Festivals”.
Ati-Atihan is believed to have come about around the year 1200 A.D. The story of its origins is centered around the hospitality of the Filipino Ati people towards a group of Malay chieftains that fled Borneo to seek refuge in the Philippines. The Ati’s opened their doors to the Malays, allowing them to settle in the country. In this agreement, the Malay’s exchanged gifts, jewelry in order to obtain land to live on. After this trade, the celebrations began.
As time went on, a famine struck the Ati’s and they wandered towards the settlement to look for food and a return on their previous hospitality. The Ati’s received food and celebrated with similar traditions that you see at Ati-Atihan today. Throughout their celebrations, the Filipino people did not have any ties to Christianity until Spanish missionaries came and added Christian ideals to their pagan holidays and festivals. Thus, the Ati-Atihan of today was born.
Celebrating Baby Jesus
After Ati-Atihan became a celebration of the birth of Jesus, religious festival activities became apart of the annual traditions. People begin their celebrations by attending mass in honor of the Santo Niño. Ati-Atihan begins with an opening mass, signified by a public procession of dancing and the loud rhythm of drumming. You don’t have to be Catholic or Christian at all to participate in the mass or Ati-Atihan in general. Just be show up, and respectfully watch, dance, and celebrate along with everyone else!
Day two of Ati-Atihan starts at daybreak with a procession of rosaries and a community mass. The heavy emphasis on religious activity is due impart to the people’s belief that Jesus will protect everyone and watch over their friends and family.
Many people that aren’t that into the religious aspect of the festival arrive to Ati-Atihan for the final Sunday. This is the largest procession of the festival and is mostly geared toward visitors and tourists. Groups that are from different tribes will wear traditional costumes and garments and dance in a procession while parading around different images and representations of the Child Jesus.
All participants in this procession are competing for prizes. The winners are crowned at the Masquerade Ball late that night, the final celebration of Ati-Atihan.
Costumes and Color
Festival lovers that are interested in attending Ati-Atihan will see a huge resemblance to Mardi Gras celebrations as they have many similarities both religiously and culturally. Mardi Gras usually begins after Ash Wednesday, right before people fast for Easter. This celebration as well as Ati-Atihan features dancing, costumes, parades and feasts.
Consider bringing along costumes or accessories with you if you would like to join in on the celebrations. While you can’t necessarily join the parade, there will be thousands of people celebrating alongside the processions that will be dressed up as well.
All Week Long
It is no exaggeration that Ati-Atihan is indeed a week long festival that lasts from dawn to dusk every single day. If you stay the entire week, do your best to plan out your schedule accordingly. You do not have to attend every event that happens throughout the week—try to pick and choose which celebrations you go to so that you don’t end up burned out by the end of everything.
Throughout the entire festival, you will spend the majority of Ati-Atihan watching processions as well as dancing your feet off every day! Prepare to do a lot of walking by wearing comfortable shoes. Be sure to drink a lot of water so you stay healthy and hydrated throughout the week.
Getting to Kalibo
Kalibo may take you several hours to arrive, but the trip is well worth the travel. Try to book your flights far in advance as the cheaper more direct flights will sell very quickly. If you don’t want to end up with two day layovers, do your research before buying your tickets.
When booking your hotels and accommodations, shop around. The best places to stay are the hotels in Kalibo, right in the heart of where all the festivities will take place. Book fast because nearly everyone else will try to stay at these hotels too! If you can’t get a room nearby, locals and veteran attendees recommend camping on the beach or staying in a neighboring city.
Be sure to check out travel restrictions before booking your flight to Kalibo. The governments of certain countries during particular times of the year may not allow travel to the Philippines so be sure to check for this.
The Food of Kalibo
While you’re in the Philppines, try to eat as many authentic meals as possible! Many of the festivities at Ati-Atihan include feasting on traditional dishes. The most celebrated restaurants in the offer affordable and traditional Filipino food. Try the Latte Café for some tea or coffe and tasty appetizers. Tamboy’s is a favorite for lunch or dinner as well as Nino’s Ihaw-Ihaw an for great food that is inexpensive and Gabriel’s Food for incredible Filipino burgers. Try Peil Crepes and Ice Cream Restaurant for incredible sweet treats and desserts. Once you taste all that Kalibo has to offer, you’ll wish the festival lasted all month!
What to wear to Ati-Atihan
When choosing your clothing choices for Ati-Atihan you may want to take a quick peek at pictures of the festival from former years. While you definitely aren’t expected to wear traditional clothing or costumes, you may get inspired by what you see and base your outfit choices on the bright colors, beaded designs, or traditional patterns that the locals will be wearing.
The weather during Ati-Atihan should be very warm and tropical so dress comfortably. Try to wear lightweight fabrics and lighter colors to keep the sun at bay. Do wear dresses, shorts, t-shirts and anything that you can move freely in throughout the week. Do bring an exciting outfit or creative mask to wear during Sunday’s Masquerade ball. Consider using a bit of creativity and make your own mask or costume. Check out what people have worn to past Masquerades and plan accordingly.
Tips for Attending Ati-Atihan
Before you hop on the plane to get to the Philippines, take some time to do some research on the culture, history and significance of the celebrations. The more informed you are about the events and beliefs of the Filipino people and traditions, the more authentic the experience will be for you.
Try your best to get involved in at least one of the religious activities so you can get a better understanding of the history of the holiday. Be respectful of the more private aspects of the tradition, like mass. While a lot of Ati-Atihan is a huge party, some festival participants take the religious aspects very seriously.
While participating in the Ati-Atihan events, try to chat with other attendees or some of the performers. You may just get a totally new insight on the festival!
Outside of Ati-Atihan
Many people that come to visit Ati-Atihan come as a way to finally make a trip to the Philippines which is totally fine! Ati-Atihan lasts a week, so make sure you pack your schedule full of all the sights and sounds you want to see before the festival ends.
Many people that attend Ati-Atihan book an extra week in order to either go to neighboring festivals or just take a look around the rest of the city. One of the best places to visit in the city is the Bakhawan Eco-Park and Research Centre and the Sapmaguita Gardens Take a look at this amazing Mangrove Park as well as the gardens to take a break from all the drumming and parades of people.
If you want to continue with the Catholic overtones, take a visit to the historical St. John the Baptist Cathedral, it’s truly breathtaking. Don’t forget to stop by the Museo it Akean for a deeper look into the art and history of the people of Kalibo. Visit the beach at Ingus-Ingus Hill and rest for a few days after your intense week of Ati-Atihan festivities.
So whether this is your first trip to the Philippines or you’ve visited several times, make sure you’re at Ati-Atihan this year!
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