Just a quick 45 minutes flight from Manila is the 'Happiest Festival' in the Philippines. Located in Bacolod City, the Masskara Festival is celebrated every third weekend of October or on the closest weekend to October 19. The word "MassKara" means a mass or multitude of smiling faces based on the word "Mass" which means "many" and the Spanish word "Kara" which means "face".
A highlight for visitors are the street parades similar to the famous New Orleans Mardi Gras or the Chingay Parade in Singapore. A sea of performers dressed in costumes made from fabrics of varying patterns and colors, and made even more stunning with multicolored beading, shiny sequins, exotic feathers and towering headgears are the visual treat. The vibrant colors, smiling faces and hypnotic drumming will get you into the spirit of dancing and celebrating.
The biggest city in the island of Negros, Bacolod is also the "Sugar Capital" of the Philippines. The all-time low prices of sugar globally in the 1980s contributed to the birth of the Masskara Festival. It was a period of recession for a province which relied solely on the sugar industry. The economic gloom was further aggravated by the tragedy of the sinking of passenger vessel MV Don Juan where an estimated 700 Negrenses perished.
To disperse the cloud of depression that hung thickly over the city, the local government and civic groups decided to organise a festival to bring smiles to everyone. This public celebration would be the population's cohesive declaration of triumph over diversity. This fighting spirit is embodied in the festival's street dancing lyrics "Sige lang… sige na! Bacolod bato kita! (It's okay...it's alright. No matter what adversity, Bacolod fights on!). Today, MassKara is also a local celebration and expression of thanks for the good things in life.
This year's festival was launched on 1 October with a mass at the public plaza to thank God for sparing Bacolod from the Super Typhoon Yolanda's devastation last year. The theme of "One Rhythm. One Bacolod. A Million Smiles" was selected to encourage unity among Bacolodnon in addition to promoting Bacolod as a tourism destination. Organised by Kasadya Bacolod Foundation Inc and supported by the City Council, the festival will again draw jeepney loads of residents and visitors eager to participate and experience one of the famous and colorful festivals in the country. The tourist strip of Lacson Street will be converted into a pedestrian-only area as celebrants converge to eat, drink and dance freely to the live bands on stages along Lacson. Additional festival sites include SM City Bacolod, Bacolod People's House and the Bacolod public plaza. Here are some highlights of MassKara Festival 2014:
Photography by El Nathan and courtesy of Bacolod City
10 October - MassKara Queen Coronation Night is held in the University of St. La Salle Coliseum at 6pm. This competition is where the city will find her ambassadress of good will from 11 contestants who will be advocating their causes.
12 October - MassKara by the Sea will showcase motorized bancas lighted up and decorated with life masks, mermaids, sea horses and dugongs by local fishermen from coastal barangays. The friendly competition will also include people dressing up as various sea creatures. This event held at Bacolod BREDCO Port from 6pm is FREE.
17 October - The Streetdance School Category Competition will see 11 school participating including Mandalagan Elementary School, Pahanocoy Baybay ES, F.F. Gonzaga ES, Rizal ES, Education and Training Center School-I, and C.L. Montelibano ES as well Generoso Villanova National High School; Bacolod City NHS, Domingo Lacson NHS, and Sum-ag NHS.