Biray Festival in the Philippines Date in the current year: June 1, 2024

Biray Festival in the Philippines Biray Festival (Pistang Biray) is a special non-working holiday in the Philippine municipality of Belison observed on June 1 every year. It honors the Blessed Virgin Mary and concludes the annual Flores de Mayo celebration.

Flores de Mayo (“flowers of May”) is an annual Philippine festival honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary as “the Queen of May”. May devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary originated in Italy sometime in the 18th century and then spread to other predominantly Catholic countries, including the Philippines.

The Flores de Mayo festival is held throughout the entire month of May, although how exactly it is celebrated depends on the region. In most parts of the Philippines, devotees would decorate the altar and aisles of their parish church with colorful flowers. During the festival, Catholic communities would congregate in the afternoon to recite the Dominican Rosary and offer flowers to an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The highlight of the Flores de Mayo celebration is the Santacruzan, a ritual pageant honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary and celebrating the Finding of the Holy Cross. Even though the Feast of the Finding of the True Cross (Roodmas) has not been officially observed by the Catholic Church on May 3 since the 1960 revision of the General Roman Calendar, Filipino Catholics have continued to celebrate it in the form of the Santacruzan.

The Santacruzan pageant is held in many cities, towns, and villages throughout the Philippines. Young women, often called reynas (“queens”), are chosen to represent biblical figures and other traditional or allegorical figures. The reynas, dressed in costumes and bearing their characters’ attributes, walk through the town in a festive procession.

The grandest of all reynas is the Reyna Helena, representing Saint Helena, the Roman Empress who discovered the True Cross in Jerusalem. She is accompanied by a young boy representing Constantine, Helena’s son and the first Christian Roman Emperor. Major Santacruzan often feature movie actresses, television personalities, and other celebrities.

Some cities and municipalities in the Philippines have unique Flores de Mayo celebrations. For example, the Biray Festival in Belison originated as the conclusion of the Flores de Mayo festivities, but over time it has developed into a cultural event that is packed with secular activities while retaining its religious aspect. The celebration begins with an early morning mass followed by a fluvial parade.

The fluvial parade is a Filipino Catholic tradition where devotees in bedecked boats carry an image of a saint along the river, while spectators ashore offer prayers and wave their handkerchiefs as the procession sails by. The fluvial parade in Belison is led by the parish priest aboard a motorboat, followed by numerous chapter boats decorated with small flags and flowers. Each boat carries an image of the Virgin Mary and devotees singing religious hymns.

The fluvial parade is followed by various activities at the local beach, such as boat racing, sports competitions, and non-stop dancing until dawn.

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Biray Festival, holidays in the Philippines, special non-working holidays, Flores de Mayo, festivals in the Philippines