The Philippines: The Feast of St. John the Baptist

On the Feast Day of St. John, the Baptist (June 24), everyone on the streets is splashed with buckets of water. Aside from the usual dousing with water, the Filipinos feast on lechon and have a mud parade, a water party and a grand boat parade.

Communities throughout the Philippines have festivals celebrating St. John the Baptist. For instance, the City of San Juan is famous for its Wattah Wattah Festival (Basaan Festival) which translates to “douse with water.” St. John is the patron saint of San Juan.

It is a big festivity with nationwide news coverage. In Manila, June 24 has been declared a special non-working holiday.  Everybody on the streets, whether as a commuter or passer-by, and the varied travelling modes of transportation would be splashed with buckets of water.   

At Daet, Camarines Norte, there is a Parish called St. John the Baptist Church (Parroquia de San Juan Bautista). The Parish celebrated the fourth centenary of its foundation in 2011. Named after St. John the Baptist, one of their traditions is to hold a big feast to welcome various guests into their homes on St. John the Baptist’s birthday. An array of delicious food is prepared for the fiesta with merry-making.    

Who knew that there are more ways to celebrate the birthday of St. John the Baptist?  According to ‘My Pope Philippines’ website writer, Joy Rojas, there are four additional fun ways in which the Filipinos gather together to celebrate the feast day of St. John. In various parts of the Philippines, aside from the usual dousing with water, Filipinos celebrate by: feasting on lechon (roast pig) in Batangas; Nueva Ecija has a mud parade; in Cavite they have A water party; while in Bulacan and Mindoro there is a grand boat parade. 

Lechon is one of the traditional native delicacies in a Filipino party, so it is no surprise that we also celebrate the feast of St. John the Baptist with lechon. At first, they have a lechon parade at Balayan, Batangas. They start by roasting the pigs on the streets. Then, they bring them to the Church of the Immaculate Conception to have them blessed. During the street parade of lechon, the attendees are also splashed with water and can partake of the lechon.

Locals of Bibiclat, Nueva Ecija, dress up with mud known as taong putik.  The Taong Putik Festival is also known as pagsa-San Juan.  Carrying a statue of St. John, the Baptist, the taong putik go from house to house barefoot, asking for candles or alms to buy them. 

After that, they all gather at their community parish for the traditional prayers and the lighting of candles. Historically, their devotion to St. John was strengthened when the lives of their men were spared by a Japanese firing squad during the Second World War after the locals prayed to St. John the Baptist.

From the Spanish word regar, the Caviteños celebrate a week-long festivity called Regada.  It also refers to the sprinkling of water. The Regada Water Festival takes place right in the heart of Cavite City.  It is a lively street parade of live shows and concerts filled with music and dancing events. 

At Calumpit, Bulacan and Pola, Oriental Mindoro, a fluvial (riverboat) parade similar to our September celebration of Our Lady of Peñafrancia is held.  It is known as Libad Festival at Bulacan.  They traverse at highly decorated, multi-coloured pagodas. It is normally scheduled on the eve of St. John the Baptist’s fiesta on the 23rd of June.

They then have their annual town fiesta to honour St. John. While dancing and gaily singing, the town folks splash people with water in a frenzy. There is a street procession first at Oriental Mindoro before they embark on a boat with the statue of St. John the Baptist. During the customary splashing of water and wearing native outfits, they throw water over each other, shouting:  “Viva San Bautista!”  The Feast Day of St. John the Baptist will always be known as the day when people are splashed with water.  So, get ready to get wet!

(Maria Dolores Diño)