Spooky Christmas Culture? Ibajaynons Celebrate Yawa-Yawa Fest during Christmas season

By Yelah Israel and Samantha Isobel Tumagan

You better watch out and you better not cry because the devils are coming to town!

PHOTO: Anthea Redison/Ro Akeanon

PHOTO: Jun Aguirre/Business Mirror

Devils and Christmas do not usually pair up together because Christmas is all about bringing joy and the birth of Christ. However, in Ibajay, there is an interesting tradition that gives a spooky twist to the Christmas celebration.

PHOTO: RMN DYKR Kalibo FB Page

Taking place annually on December 28, residents from selected barangays within Ibajay (mostly Capilian, Maloco and Laguinbanua) partake in a Halloween-esque celebration: the Yawa Yawa Festival, as a commemoration of the Holy Innocents’ Day (or Ninos Inocentes in Spanish).

The festival is deemed as an extended Christmas celebration by the locals where groups of men flock to the streets to scare people, especially children, with their handmade masks that are painted with bold colors (usually black and red) to resemble sinister creatures. 

The term, “yawa”, means demon/devil in Aklanon which explains why the people who partake in the festivity make their masks look horrifying.

Devils on Christmas and its Biblical Significance

As contradicting as it may seem, with all the monstrous façade, Yawa-Yawa Festival has its biblical significance. The festivity’s history dates back to the early centuries of the Christian era. It is a re-enactment of the nativity of Christ as can be read in the Book of Genesis.  

It specifically signifies the mass infanticide that took place during the time of King Herod in an attempt to capture and execute the then newly-born savior, Jesus Christ: 

A bright star appeared in the sky when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Three wise men from the East followed it and led them to Jerusalem to honor the "infant born to be the King of the Jews".

When King Herod learnt of this, he gathered all of the chief priests and asked them about where the Messiah was born. They told him about a prophecy that foretold the arrival of a leader from Bethlehem, Judea, who would rule the Israelites. Because of this, he called the wise men for a secret meeting and discovered the exact time the star first appeared. He then sent them to Bethlehem with instructions to tell him of the child's whereabouts so that he, too, might worship him.

The wise men gave baby Jesus gold, frankincense, and myrrh as gifts. King Herod, on the other hand, never saw their return because they were warned not to go back in a dream. Herod was outraged when he discovered the wise men had deceived him. He ordered his men to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and the surrounding area who were two years old or younger, based on what he had learnt from the guests about the time the star appeared. Fortunately, he had never found Jesus, as Joseph had taken them to Egypt and only returned after Herod's death.

Herod's army massacred the innocent little boys which are symbolized as the “Yawa-Yawas” and reenact their evildoings by scaring toddlers and go door-to-door on the day of the Yawa-Yawa Festival.

How do residents celebrate this “devilish intervention”?

As the term yawa or devil/demon suggests, the entrants masquerade themselves as evil entities, adorned in dresses or dasters, robes, capes, and decorations, completed with masks crafted from coconut husks and palm fibers.




PHOTO: Municipality of Ibajay Blogspot

These intimidating apparels are used to incite fear within children to convince them to behave and be good. However, aside from that, these costumes cloak the identity of the wearer in preparation for the upcoming activities. 

While the day unfolds, the participants, commonly referred to as the Yawa-Yawas search for the holy child or Santo Niño, similar to how soldiers once sought for Jesus Christ.

The Yawa-Yawas ravage the streets while they search for the holy child, soliciting rice grains and money from their neighbors and even, at times, from passing tourists that drive along the national highway.

During their raid, the Yawa-Yawas typically also steal items from the townsfolk's homes, such as clothing, kitchenware, appliances, and so on. In the case that one is able to find the Santo Nino, they capture it, making them able to demand ransom from the owners for the figure’s return. Likewise, any stolen household belongings are given back at the end of the day after being exchanged for either edibles or financial payment.

“For us here in Ibajay, it’s part of the fun and tradition every Christmas,” Rudy Ann Cerencio, a resident, told Business Mirror, as she recalls when she had to give a Yawa-Yawa participant her family’s Christmas leftovers for the return of her stolen laundry. 

Unfortunately, the tradition of the Yawa-Yawa festival is beginning to fade. Another resident, Felmerie Sabino, stated, “Every year, I notice fewer people participating in the tradition. Less participation equals less fun. I hope government officials [will] do something to revive it.”







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