pagoda
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Pagoda Festival: The Ultimate Guide

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  • Post last modified:July 3, 2022
  • Reading time:23 mins read

If you’ve visited or lived in Bulacan, there’s no way you don’t know about the Bocaue Pagoda Festival Philippines. Yes, you can fight me if you don’t know about this amazing festival. Just kidding, let’s not fight. Peace all the way. 

Jokes aside, the town of Bocaue in the province of Bulacan celebrates the Bocaue Pagoda Festival, also known as the Pagoda sa Wawa or Pagoda Festival.

The festival gets held on the first Sunday of every July. Interestingly, the festival honors the miraculous scripture-level cross floating on the Bocaue river two centuries ago. 

What Is Pagoda Festival? 

pagoda festival
Source: Diethelm Travel

During the Bocaue Pagoda Festival, people carry a replica of the cross on which Jesus was crucified. They do this through the streets atop a pagoda that has been exquisitely decorated. And let me tell you, the sight is something to behold. 

In addition, the pagoda is led by a procession of colorful bancas (small boats). Yes, Filipino festivals always have lots of colors involved. 

The said procession serves as a crucial part of a nine-day novena. During the novena, participants feast and celebrate the fabled retrieval of the Holy Cross from the Bocaue River. Hundreds, if not thousands of people take part in the event.

Pagoda Festival Philippines History

pagoda festival Philippines
Source: ABS-CBN

Despite the colorful costumes and happy people, the Pagoda Festival Philippines has a tragic history. You better prepare your crying tissue for this. 

The Pagoda Festival Philippines have been known to occasionally lead to enormous calamities. This was how the 2nd of July, 1993 in the town of Bocaue, Bulacan played out.

The celebration of the Santo Niño, the Philippines’ oldest Catholic icon, took place at the same time as the Pagod Festival Philippines.

During that time, people would ride down the river on a multi-level pagoda that had been constructed specifically to float.

People danced, ate, and sang. In other words, everyone had an unforgettable, one-for-the-books time. 

However, given the people’s excitement, the floating pagoda went way beyond its current (no pun intended) capacity. As a result, the pagoda started to drop. At first, it did so gradually. But after a while, in a Titanic-like fashion, it sunk relatively quickly. 

So, of course, when the pagoda began to sink, people panicked. Everyone immediately started diving into the murky water. Although some were successful, many were lost at sea.

Despite the tragedy, the Bocaue Pagoda Festival Philippines still goes on. Until today, a part of the festival gets dedicated to the departed. 

For the years to come, this custom carried on as normal. The only difference? People are more careful nowadays. After all, history should not repeat itself in this case. 

Bocaue Pagoda Festival Description

bocaue pagoda festival
Source: Philippines Travel Site

During the Bocaue Pagoda Festival, a cross that travels atop a pagoda gets adorned with gorgeous trimmings. People then guide it using colorful bancas.

The procession down the river involves a massive pagoda float ornately decorated. I’m talking about extravagant, colorful decorations here. 

On top of that, the procession serves as the highlight of the Bocaue Pagoda Festival. The float then goes onto the Pasig River, usually carried on a barge. In case you don’t know, the float carries the Holy Cross of Bocaue.

While the pagoda floats, worshippers walk alongside it. During the procession, devotees usually drench one other with water. This is likely because the procession takes place near a river. 

Additionally, individuals who can’t locate a spot on the already busy pagoda can simply swim beside it.

When Is Pagoda Festival?

The Bocaue Pagoda Festival is held annually on the first Sunday of July. As the name suggests, it is done in the municipality of Bocaue, which is located in the province of Bulacan.

Why Is Pagoda Festival Celebrated?

bocaue pagoda
Source: Facebook

According to a narrative usually told during the Bocaue Pagoda Festival, someone’s ancestor plucked the pagoda out of the river about two hundred years ago. 

Nevertheless, religion played a role in the majority of, if not all, Filipino celebrations. 

Bulacan Delicacies You Must Have During Pagoda Festival

Looking to satisfy those hunger pangs during the Pagoda Festival Philippines? We got a list of the best Bulacan delicacies you should try during the festival:

1. Inipit de Leche

inipit de leche

The name “inipit” refers to the sweet yema filling sandwiched between two sponge cakes in this traditional Bulacan dessert. 

If you don’t know what a sponge cake is, think about mamon. So, if you ate mamon, you technically ate sponge cake.

Technicalities aside, sponge cakes are like chiffon cakes. The only difference is that sponge cakes typically do not use any leavening agents like Calumet baking powder or baking soda. Instead, sponge cake’s fluffiness can be credited to the beaten egg whites. 

Of course, we just can’t forget the filling in between the sponge cake slices.

Interestingly, the inipit de leche’s filling, unlike the ones used in yema cakes, has mashed potatoes. Yes, you read that right.

While this sounds gross, mashed potatoes give the heaviness and perfect texture to the filling Filipinos grew to love. In fact, Bulacan was the first province to come up with this technique, making the inipit de leche more special. 

2. Barquillos

The delicious and crunchy barquillos got into the Philippines during the Spanish colonization of the country. 

Also known as cigarette russes, biscuit rolls, and cookie rolls, barquillos have been a staple Filipino pasalubong. Interestingly, it calls for baking ingredients typically kept on hand. The dessert can be cooked in a skillet or an oven for baking

Both the Spanish and the Filipino versions of the wafer roll have, in their own right, amazing flavors. We have tried both and let us tell you, they both taste fantastic. 

3. Pastillas

pastillas
Source: Zeny’s

Candies made from milk, known as pastillas or pastillas de leche serve as heavenly, creamy desserts. 

People cook the dish using milk from a carabao (aka water buffalo). Take note, water buffalo milk, not cow’s milk. In addition, the pastillas produced with milk from a carabao (no animal bias here) are the best types.

4. Crispy Mushroom Flakes and Bits

During the Pagoda Festival Philippines, you’ll usually see many stands selling mushroom goods near churches and schools.

One of the best goods sold by our hardworking vendors?

The lovable mushroom chips. Yes, mushrooms can become chips, making them one of the healthiest varieties out there. 

So, if you haven’t tasted mushroom chips yet, you must check them out during the Pagoda Festival Philippines. 

For starters, taste the ones with the original flavor. Then, go on to the chips with other popular flavors like barbecue and cheese. 

Be prepared to be surprised though, as mushroom chips taste like chicharon, but without the extra calories. Another spoiler: You’ll finish them in one sitting, guaranteed. Yes, mushroom chips in Bulacan are that flavorful. 

5. Minasa

minasa
Source: Zeny’s

The idea for minasa came about at the same time when wealthy people in Bustos began constructing stone homes for their families. 

Builders used egg whites as adhesive for putting adobe stones together during that time period. Homemakers (aka geniuses) also found a way to make use of the egg yolks. They combined yolks with butter, milk, and flour made from starch taken from a plant known as sago. They then used this mixture to make cookies that later became came minasa.

The word came from “masa,” which means “hand kneading” in Tagalog. Cooks used this technique to prepare the dough. In particular, they squeezed and stretched it before baking it. 

Using its past tense, the term minasa came to light. 

However, during that time, minasa became a unique pastry exclusively available to the upper class and affluent people in the Philippines. The rich also served minasa to their most distinguished guests. These guests would visit their houses for celebrations and other important events. 

In keeping with the custom of caridad (aka charity), minasa serves as a popular pasalubong and present for the affluent’s friends. Interestingly, people then and now eat minasa with a creamy cup of hot chocolate

6. Chicharon

If you’ve visited or lived in the Philippines, you likely know about chicharon.

Made of dehydrated, deep-fried pork rind or pork belly, chicharon’s crunchy texture makes it so addicting. 

Aside from Cebu’s chicharon, Bulacan’s chicharon is one of the best in the Philippines. Thankfully, you can enjoy it during the Bocaue Pagoda Festival Philippines.

On the downside, chicaron can be harmful to your health. For this reason, you should eat it in moderation. After all, things done in moderation can’t be that bad, right? 

But let’s be honest: Ee can’t help but cave in when confronted with the irresistible flavor, enticing aroma, and mouthwatering look of chicharon.

7. Ensaymada Malolos

When you go to Bulacan for the Pagoda Festival, make sure to pick up some of their delicious ensaymada to take home with you.

We’ve been told about this world-famous old-fashioned ensaymada that comes from Eurobake, also known as the Home of the Old-Fashioned Ensaymada Malolos and Original Inipit, is the best. 

The description alone makes anyone want to try their ensaymada. The traditional ensaymada Malolos is a hit among customers, both local and international. 

This Bulacan-style ensaymada has a distinctively browned bun. Cooks top it with salted duck egg, butter, and loads of cheese and sugar.

8. Putok Pandesal de Baliuag

putok pandesal de baliuag

Putok is a Filipino word that can either mean explosion or fissure. But don’t you worry because the putok pandesal won’t literally cause these. Instead, it causes an explosion of flavors inside your mouth. Something to look forward to during the Pagoda Festival Philippines, eh? 

Cooks get this effect by making a cross-shaped cut in the dough just before baking it. This variation of the traditional monay dough produces rich bread. 

In addition, putok pandesal has flour, milk, and salt. Locals usually eat the bread as an afternoon snack paired with coffee or tea. 

Lastly, the inexpensive, aromatic putok pandesal displayed in glass cases by the roadside always holds a special place in our hearts.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is pagoda festival in the Philippines?

The Pagoda Festival is an annual celebration held at Bocaue, Bulacan. The municipality holds it in honor of the Holy Cross of Wawa discovered in the Bocaue River. The float procession consisting of a pagoda or otherwise decked-out barge and other brightly colored rowboats serves as the event’s highlight. The festival is also promoted by the Philippines’ Tourism Promotion Board. 

Why do we celebrate pagoda festival?

People celebrate the Pagoda Festival or Pagoda sa Wawa to commemorate the discovery of the miraculous cross floating on the Bocaue river 200 years ago. The festival gets held on the first Sunday of July in the town of Bocaue, Bulacan.

What caused the pagoda tragedy?

The accident involved the sinking of the floating pagoda, the centerpiece of the festivities. It resulted in the drowning of more than 200 devotees.

Who is Sajid Bulig?

Sajid Bulig, as a great swimmer he is, was able to rescue four (according to the official report) drowning devotees. In his attempt to save more lives, he got hit by giant wooden debris that ended his young life. His heroic act got recognized by the people and media after the news spread.

What is the festival of Bulacan?

Inadakan Festival is an annual feast in the City of San Jose del Monte. It commemorates the cityhood and strong foundation of the city. Celebrated in September, the festival features the best kakanin (rice puddings) and valenciana (chicken and rice sauté in azuete sauce) food in town.

What is Carabao festival?

Dedicated to the Spanish saint San Isidro Labrador, the Carabao Festival serves as a harvest festival. It focuses on the thanksgiving of farmers for one year worth of abundant agricultural produce.

Conclusion

Held every July, the Pagoda Festival reminds us of the resilience of Filipinos. Despite the tragedy that treaded the river two centuries ago, Filipinos still found a way to remember everyone who passed.

They also did not fail to remember those who sacrificed their lives to save others. So, as the Bocaue Pagoda Festival Philippines come to light, don’t forget to pray for those who departed 200 hundred years ago.

On a brighter note, don’t forget to celebrate their lives and the town (especially the delicious festival food) as a whole. 

Read Philippine Festival Guides by HICAPS

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