Spiritual Street Dancing at Ati-Atihan Festival



Festival Essentials

Where: Kalibo, The Philippines, South-east Asia  When: 3rd Sunday of January Happenings: New Year Mardi Gras carnival with frenzied street dancing, faith healing and a parade of torches Remember to: Get caught up in a conga and party the night long! The Ati-Atihan festival is held every third Sunday of January and is one of the three variations on Mardi Gras that are held in the Philippines.

What Happens at Ati-Atihan?

What better why to kick start a new year than an outrageous street party? The Philippines celebrates no less than three versions of the world famous Mardi Gras and the wildest of them all is the Ati-Atihan. Held in the town of Kalibo, the Ati-Atihan is a two-pronged celebration to firstly honour the Santo Nino (baby Jesus) and secondly to commemorate a peace pact between two warring tribes back in 1210. To many of the visitors from all over who converge on this island to celebrate seven days of festivities, it’s just a perfect excuse for some serious partying on a tropical paradise. The highlight of the Ati-Atihan is undoubtedly a three-day three-night frenzy of drinking and dancing, dubbed the ‘Big Three Days of Spiritual Street Dancing’. The air is filled with music from over 80 groups, all vying for the one million-peso prize awarded to the best performance. Colourful costumes fill the streets and some revellers paint themselves black with soot to imitate the native Atis tribesmen. Unlike other Mardi Gras, any colourful and unusual costume is more than welcome at the Ati-Atihan and it is this crowd participation that makes the Ati-Atihan an absolute winner. Spectators spontaneously join in the parade, and it is hard not to get caught up in one conga line or another.

Faith Healing

The Ati-Atihan also bears a deep religious significance. The pahilot, a faith-healing tradition, is held during the festival where a Catholic priest rubs the devotee’s body with the image of the Santo Niño, with the belief that it heals both the body and soul. Many of the townsfolk believe in this ritual and there have been reports of barren women who have been able to conceive after the pahilot.

End of Festival Torch Procession

The Torch Procession is held on the last evening of the festival, marking the end of the Ati-Atihan. Thousands turn up, bamboo torches in hand, to take part in this event. Hundreds of Santo Nino statues and the sound of drumbeats fill the air. The procession crawls through the streets of the town toward the century-old Kalibo Cathedral where many will take a moment for a final prayer. The night skies, lit by the glow of the numerous hand-held torches, give a picture perfect end to the spectacle that is the Ati-Atihan.