Little-Known Candle Festival in Candelaria, Quezon Wows Crowd


As Philippine festivals go, the bigger and brighter, the better. That rings true for popular ones like the Sinulog in Cebu, Dinagyang in Iloilo, Ati-Atihan in Kalibo, Pahiyas in Lucena, and Panagbenga in Baguio, just to name a few. Unbeknownst to most, several locations across the archipelago are staging their own little-known festivals that are equally well worth the effort to witness.

Festivals in the Philippines
The street dance competition was held on a stage set up in front of the San Pedro Bautista Parish Church

In fact, experiencing these not-so-popular festivals brings out a more intimate experience. With the absence of a large crowd,  you'll feel more at one with the locals as you stand shoulder to shoulder with them on the side streets as they watch the parade or in the plaza as they revel in the main events. Countless festivals, each with its own unique touch of community character, dot the landscape of the Philippines.

What to do in Quezon Province
Like most festivals, each contingent have their own queen

One of the most recent festivals that I attended and surprised me with its fun revelry is the Candle Festival in the municipality of Candelaria in the province of Quezon.

In Honor the Virgin of Nuestra Senora de Candelaria

Most people, including me, assume that the festival is influenced by a backyard candle-making industry. That is not the case, however. Although town Mayor George D. Suayan supported the idea of introducing candle-making to create more jobs and income for Candelaria residents. The Candle Festival honors the Candlemas (also known as the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus Christ), a Christian festival commemorating the occasion when the Virgin Mary went to the Temple in Jerusalem to be purified 40 days after the birth of her son, Jesus, and to present him to God as her firstborn.

Where to go in Quezon Province
Readying for the street parade

In 2005, the inaugural Candle Festival took place as a result of the suggestion of Monsignor Carlos Pedro A. Herrera, a parish priest at the time, who had taken up devotion to Nuestra Senora de Candelaria and wanted to have a parade through town honoring the Virgin Mary. Since then, young people have begun to participate in the street parade, along with colorful floats representing the municipality's 25 barangays.

“Dati ren po akong nag bi-birhen”

While seeing diverse groups dressed in bright costumes dancing to varied choreographies and drumming beats is usual at most Philippine celebrations, the Candle Festival stands out for the presence of real individuals depicting the Virgin Mary.

Janela Tesoro
Yes, she is a real human

As I was examining the lines of contingents waiting for the go-signal to begin their procession, I saw a number of floats decorated with flowers. At first glimpse, I remember focusing my gaze on what I assumed were statues of the Virgin Mary standing on their various floats. Upon looking closer, I realized that they were indeed young women costumed as the Virgin Mary, standing immobile atop their various floats.

Festivals in Quezon
You are forgiven if you first thought this was a statue of the Virgin Mary

Later in the evening, during a break from the street dancing competition, one of Candelaria’s favorite daughters and the municipality’s bet for this year’s Miss Universe Philippines pageant, Miss Ahtisa Manalo, informed the audience that she, too, had played the Virgin Mary in the festival's earlier events. 

Quezon Province travel guide
This is quite an experience for these young women to portray the Virgin Mary

“I’m happy to be back here in Candelaria, especially during the Candle Festival”, Manalo, who is already the 2018 Binibining Pilipinas – International crown holder, told the crowd. “I was also one of the Virgin Marys before, dati ren po akong nag bi-birhen”, she added.

Places to see in Candelaria
Time for the street parade

Hearing about Ahtisa Manalo’s recollection of her Candle Festival experience opened my eyes to the ways in which the modest Candle Festival of Candelaria has enriched the collective memory of the town, where the adults of today may have once danced the streets or performed the role of the Virgin Mary during the festivals of yesteryear.

Mishi Magno
The route wasn't that long, making the festival's street parade an ideal one to partake in

Candelaria's Candle Festival, like most, if not all, of the country's festivals, has provided fantastic and memorable experiences for the entire community. It's no surprise that by the end of the night, as the fireworks lit up the sky, many of those who had lined the streets in the afternoon to watch the street parade had stayed to see the very last firework pop up in the sky.

Best Festivals in the Philippines
The contingents' costumes can hold, uhm, a candle to other festivals

It is easy to see that the Candle Festival is more than just a celebration of the Virgin of Nuestra Senora de Candelaria; it is also a much anticipated annual event that brings the community together in joyful celebration.