Sambat Mascara y Regatta Festival in Bohol

When it’s the first week of December in Loay, Bohol and the air is cooler and the nights are long, Loayans busily but merrily prepare their homes and the town plaza with colorful decors and lights. Preparing for Christmas? Well, probably later—after the Sambat Mascara y Regatta Festival.

Festivities—a lot of provincial towns in the country have their lives revolving around fiestas. Sometimes, it takes the whole year to prepare for them. They are cheery, abundant, colorful, and religious. They are times when the town becomes one family. Like the centuries-old Sambat Mascara y Regatta Festival.

Sambat Mascara y Regatta Festival is held each first Saturday of December. Loayan folks zealously observe it in honor of St. Francis Xavier, the second most revered patron of the locality. The patron saint had been introduced in the island since 1621 and has been honored since then, especially in the coastal town of Loay.

The celebration is accentuated by trade fairs. Sambat Mascara y Regatta Festival includes a proud display of the best agricultural products and industrial breakthroughs. It is a gesture of gratitude for all the bounty during the year.

The climax of any fiesta is the procession of the patron’s statue on a float of floral decors and bright lights. With the Sambat Masacara y Regatta Festival, after a solemn mass, the St. Francis Xavier idol is paraded from the church, around town, on the river, and then back to the church—with throngs of devotees trailing behind.

The fluvial parade via the Loay river is the climax of the climax. Cheery crowds on the raft with the statue and cheery crowds by the river banks, watching. After the parade the colorful Sambat Mascara y Regatta festival fun begins. Loay becomes one big circus.

Excitement is everywhere—musical contests, masked street dancing (the major feature), street corner mini stages, drums and bugles, fairs, native games, bazaars, etc. There is even a boat race at the river. After all the fun, big feasts comes next. The masked (mascara) nature of Sambat Mascara y Regatta Festival may be reminiscent of the “pintados” (tattooed people) that once inhabited Bohol.

Loay is one place we shouldn’t miss during Decembers. To witness the gaiety of Sambat Mascara y Regatta Festival we take a 30 minute ride from the Tagbilaran Airport to this coastal town. From Tagbilaran we go south along the coastal road passing by Baclayon, Alburquerque, and then Loay.

If we want town-size all-out fun, Sambat Mascara y Regatta Festival is worth checking out.