The sleepy agricultural town of Mabitac in Laguna province, the Philippines, comes alive every first Sunday of the year, as people flock to the town center to mark the “Feast of the Three Kings.”
The highlight of the celebration is the procession of boys on horseback dressed as kings, as people perched on their balconies throw money down on the streets below.
The Feast of the Three Kings, which falls on the Catholic Church’s Feast of the Epiphany, is “God making his presence known to the world,” said Father Ernani Carillo, the town’s parish priest.
No one can recall when the celebration and attendant money-tossing tradition in Mabitac began, although some believe it goes back to the 1960s.
Mabitac prides itself on being the only town in the province that celebrates the “feast” with the shower of cash.
“This is unique. This is how we celebrate Christmas here,” said town administrator Romeo Alarde.
Father Carillo said that just as the “Three Kings gave gifts of frankincense, myrrh, and gold,” Christ is “God’s gift to the world.”
Mayor Ronald Sana said the shower of money, which also happens at town hall, is the community’s way of giving gifts to residents and visitors.
“It has become a tradition here to share. They feel that when they throw or give away coins or paper bills, the blessings will come back to them,” said the mayor.
Juvanie Miguel, 28, has joined the crowds eagerly anticipating cash gifts from above for the last seven years. He said the largest amount he has ever received is $6.
“The event could easily get out of hand with all the jumping and climbing, but the people of the town are always good sports. We get hurt but we understand,” said Miguel.
On the other hand, 72-year-old Pacita Lumbera, from the neighboring town of Santa Maria, said that rather than the shower of money, she comes to Mabitac to attend Mass.
“It’s my vow to go to church here during Three Kings. It’s not important if I get money or not. As long as I’m able to go to church, I’m very happy,” she said.
Father Carillo said the people of Mabitac have become “mature” as a result of their annual celebration.
“It is not only a ritual for them but a form of thanksgiving for the blessings they have received from God,” said the priest.