April 1980 was a bad month for the Filipino sugar capital of Bacolod on Negros Island. Global sugar prices had plummeted, and a sea accident had caused the loss of hundreds of locals. Instead of letting the mood sour, local government, civic groups, and artists banded to host a carnival-style celebration dedicated to the smile. Three decades later, the Masskara Festival is still bringing cheer to Bacolod.
Named from a combination of the English word “mass” and the Spanish word “kara” meaning face, Masskara is recognised by the ornate smiling masks worn by revellers. It’s hosted on the third weekend of October (or the weekend closest to October 19) and includes food festivals, live music, street dance competitions, and a parade of illuminated floats and giant puppets. Locals wear elaborate headgear and colourful costumes made of various fabrics, but the centrepiece is always the smiling mask, with its inspiration for vitality and hope.
Nowadays, Bacolod is visited by travellers too, especially during Masskara. Excitement is high during the festival but for most of the year, Bacolod is a quiet city surrounded by sugar plantations. Explore its heritage through sweet treats like the flatbread piaya and biscuit roll barquillos, and the elaborate haciendas of the sugar barons.
The Masskara Festival kicks off in Bacolod on Sat Oct 1, with festivities peaking between Sat Oct 15-Wed Oct 19. See the schedule here.
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