A Festival in the City of Smiles

by Akhil Kalepu

Oct 14, 2016

MassKara, Bacolod City, Philippines © Tripadora | Dreamstime

Trends / Unique Itineraries & Tours

Inspired by the Carnivals of Rio and Venice, Bacolod City’s MassKara festival is a jovial festival held every year on the third weekend closest to Oct. 19, in the Philippines. The name is a double entendre, signifying the ubiquitous masks (máscara in Spanish) and the large crowds of smiling people.


The creation of the festival was a reaction to a period of darkness for the city. In the late 1970s, the province around Bacolod City was a large sugar producer, but the introduction of high-fructose corn syrup brought prices down to an all-time low, taking an economic toll on the region. At the same time, a tragedy struck the city when two ships struck each other and sank, killing an estimated 700 people, many of whom were Bacolod City residents.


Such tragedies were a dark time for the city, inspiring civic groups and the local government to team up and lift the spirits of their home city. Bacolod City was known as the “City of Smiles,” so it made sense to name their event the “Festival of Smiles,” making a statement about the city’s resilience in the face of tragedy.


Beginning in 1980, the festival has grown in scope and attraction, featuring concerts, garden shows, trade fairs, sports and more. The street dance competition is always a favorite, as well as the parade, where the streets of the city are filled with smiling masks of color and sequins.


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