Wattah-Wattah Festival in San Juan Date in the current year: June 24, 2024

Wattah-Wattah Festival in San Juan The feast of Saint John (Pista ng San Juan), also known as the Wattah-Wattah Festival or Basaan Festival, is an annual celebration of the nativity of Saint John the Baptist in the Philippine city of San Juan.

San Juan is a highly urbanized city in Metro Manila (the National Capital Region of the Philippines). It was founded by Spaniards as San Juan del Monte (“Saint John of the Mountain”) during the early years of the Spanish colonization of the Philippines. The name referred to the town’s patron saint, Saint John the Baptist, and the hilly terrain of the area. Over time, it was shortened to San Juan.

Since the Philippines is a predominantly Catholic country, its residents take the feast days of the patron saints of their cities, towns and villages very seriously, often celebrating them with boisterous festivals that combine church masses and solemn processions with vibrant and colorful festivities. For example, residents of San Juan and many other communities throughout the country celebrate the feast day of Saint John the Baptist by dousing each other with water. This tradition, called basaan, symbolizes baptisms that were performed by Saint John in the Jordan River, especially the baptism of Jesus Christ.

On June 24, people take to the streets to generously douse unsuspecting passers-by with water and engage in water fights with each other using water guns, hoses, and buckets or whatever vessels are available to them. In rural areas, people often go to the local beach to take a swim, believing that exposure to water will bring them God’s blessings and good favor.

Since 2003, the Wattah-Wattah Festival has been an official holiday in San Juan. To keep things safe, the city government has imposed some rules and restrictions regarding water fights: dirty water and ice are prohibited, as well as water in glass bottles and other vessels that may cause pain or injury. It is also prohibited to enter public transport specifically to douse commuters.

There was no basaan in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic-related restrictions (mask mandates and social distancing). The traditional water drenching was included in the 2022 celebration, but canceled again in 2023 to conserve water before the upcoming El Niño season (a period of the abnormal warming of sea surface temperatures resulting in a reduced rainfall that occurs every few years). The 2023 celebration was also postponed due to the death of San Juan City Vice Mayor Warren Villa.

Water dousing may be the best-known tradition of the Wattah-Wattah Festival, but it is far from being the only one. The annual celebration of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist in San Juan also includes a special mass, a procession where the image of Saint John is carried through the city to bless its residents, float parades, free concerts, street dancing, and firework displays.

The street dancing competition is one of the most-awaited highlights of the Wattah-Wattah Festival. Dancers representing different barangays (neighborhoods) and public schools of San Juan showcase their dancing skills, amazing choreography and vibrant costumes in the city streets, competing for prizes and recognition.

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Wattah-Wattah Festival, Basaan Festival, holidays in the Philippines, festivals in the Philippines, holidays in San Juan