I’m from Metro Manila. I have grown accustomed to the chaos and noise around me growing up. But today, the closer I get to the center of Kalibo, the capital town of Aklan province in central Philippines, the more I realize that this parade, the drums and the costumes are not just loud, meaningless sounds. They are an all-consuming passion for the locals and the people who join them dancing in the streets.

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I, Jay Exiomo, have just experienced my first Ati-Atihan festival. I feel like saying this is just as saying as I have scaled Mount Everest, or I have finally gone to Japan outside the Narita airport, because experiencing the festival, as a Filipino, was one of the most rewarding moments of my life. The crowd is rowdy, yet I find a peace knowing this is a part of who I am. There is no choreography, unlike other festivals held in other parts of the country to celebrate the Feast Day of the Child Jesus. Yet I feel at one with all the people. United by a common purpose. I don’t know what it is. I just feel there is one.

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I’m not sure why it struck me so much. It was mostly confusing being there at a time when the famous Filipino happy-go-lucky mentality is on full display, yet at the same time with still a bit of misery within the cracks of the people’s psyche brought about by the calamities late last year.  But for some reason, it grips me. My tummy’s grumbling but I can’t pull myself away from the crowds to dodge into a diner and have my meal. I weave my way deeper into the site.

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And it was with the revelry I found the answer. It’s about joy, that simple. It’s about being completely unabated, unabashed, and beautiful. It is unicorns and first loves, it is Christmas and your birthday and all your friends and loved ones. It’s celebrating who we are.

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