For most, Zamboanga City is all about flowers and also a place for business ventures, but in fact it also hosts some of the most spectacular festivals in the Philippines. The blend of various cultures and traditions are what makes the fiestas here so enthralling.
Almost all provinces in the Philippines hold fiestas to honor their patron saints, and in Zamboanga it is the Fiesta Pilar.
Held in honor of the saint, La Nuestra Senora del Pilar de Zaragoza, she was a figure that was also revered in Spain, and her adoration and devotion was inherited by the local populace. A statue of the saint can be seen on the fort dedicated to her honor. During the event, there are several street dances, processions and masses held to honor her. This celebration is the culmination of the Zamboanga Hermosa festival.
The Regatta de Zamboanga
Of the numerous events held in the month of October, one of the most renowned is the Regatta de Zamboanga, which showcases the finest vintas (sailboats) in the country.
Under the supervision of the local administration, the Regatta, besides all the music, dancing and other festivities, is all about the boat race. While there are special awards given to the winner, it is mainly intended to present to the world the beauty of the vinta. The sails and hulls, often along with the participants, are clad in bright and colorful outfits, which complement the party like atmosphere.
Flores de Mayo (Flowers of May)
Perhaps no other festival marks the religious devotion of the
people of Zamboanga than the Flores de Mayo, a month long event
held in churches in homage to the Virgin Mary.
There are various aspects and features to this feast; a common sight are small children going to churches place flowers at statues of the Virgin Mary. It should be noted that this practice is not just followed in Zamboanga but all over the Philippines, for this festival is country wide. Nine days of prayer, also called the novena, is practiced by the devout Catholics,
The Santacruzan marks the end of the Flores de Mayo, and takes place on the last day of the month. While it is still a part of the Flores de Mayo, there are other aspects to it.
The Santacruzan, a festivity the Spaniards brought with them, is held in remembrance of the pursuit of Queen Helena (in Tagalog Reyna Elena) and her newly crowned Emperor son Constantine, for the Holy Cross. According to the story, when the two returned to Rome, they brought the relic with them, sparking off celebrations.
In the Santacruzan, the festivities are carried throughout by a series of street parades; here you will see figures from the Bible (such as Methuselah, Mary of Bethany, Esther), from legend (Rosa Mystica, Rosa Paz, Reyna Justicia) and those from pre Christian Philippines (the Aeta). The finale is the presentation of the Reyna Elena, who is usually chosen beforehand in a pageant.
Afterwards there is what is called a pabitin. Here the children cluster under a group of trellis filled with fruits and sweets and reach out to grab them. Part of the fun comes as someone pulls them up and another slowly lowers them.
Dia de Zamboanga (the City Foundation Day)
The foundation day of the city, on February 26, 1937, is a non working holiday and is observed by the people with special activities.
There are several programs usually held; there are reenactments performed by various groups highlighting the important events in the city’s history; there are also colorful ceremonies marked by merry making, and speeches given by public officials, often announcing new projects aimed at further enhancing Zamboanga.
Semana Santa (Holy Week)
Observed either in March or April, the Holy Week in Zamboanga is, as with other island provinces, a time when the devotee can reflect, and the weary can relax and enjoy themselves.
As with most of the country, the period is marked by a procession highlighting the events leading to the Crucifixion of Christ, usually accompanied by prayers of the devotees. In other parts of the city, like the beaches and resorts, the places come alive with people, both local and foreigners, who descend to the city to escape the summer heat.