The Sinulog-Santo Niño Festival is an annual cultural and religious festival held on the third Sunday of January in Cebu City, and is the center of the Santo Niño Catholic celebrations in the Philippines.
The word Sinulog comes from the Cebuano adverb sulog which roughly means “like water current movement of what was known as Cebu’s Pahina River;” it describes the forward-backward movement of the Sinulog dance. The dance consists of two steps forward and one step backward, done to the sound of drums. The dance is categorized into Sinulog-base, Free-Interpretation, and street dancing. Candle vendors at the Basilica continue to perform the traditional version of the dance when lighting a candle for the customer, usually accompanied by songs in the native language.
Sinulog is the ritual prayer-dance honoring Señor Santo Niño or the Child Jesus. An image of the Child Jesus is said to be the baptismal gift the Portuguese conquistador Ferdinand Magellan gave Haramihan (Humanay) of Zebu (now Cebu) in April 1521. The image, believed to be miraculous, is housed at the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño in downtown Cebu City.
According to historical accounts, the Zebu natives already danced the Sinulog in honor of their animist idols long before the arrival of Magellan who led a Spanish expedition on April 7, 1521. Magellan did not live long after he introduced Christianity. He died in a failed assault on nearby Mactan island at the hands of a local chieftain named Lapu-Lapu.
Survivors of Magellan’s expedition left behind the image to be discovered 44 years later.
The expedition led by Miguel Lopez de Legaspi bombarded the native settlement when they arrived on April 28, 1565. In one of the burning huts, one of Legaspi’s men, Juan Camus, discovered the image of the Santo Niño inside a wooden box beside other idols. This time however, Legaspi discovered that the natives already danced the Sinulog honoring the Santo Niño.
Today the Sinulog commemorates the Filipino people’s acceptance of Christianity (specifically, Roman Catholicism), and their rejection of their former animist beliefs. The first of these conversions happened in 1521 on the island of Cebu, when Rajah Humabon and his queen Amihan (Humamay) were baptized along with their subjects, becoming Carlos and Juana of Cebu.
As the years go by, devotion to Senior Santo Niño has grown so fast and devotees drastically increased and the traditional ritual became a festival. Since that time, pilgrims from various areas in the province of Cebu and the rest of Filipinos were making their way in a yearly journey to join the procession and festival.
The modern concept of commemorating the day of Senior Santo Niño garnered so much appreciation from various sectors and all Cebuanos. From then onward, Sinulog Festival became a yearly highlight and main event in the province of Cebu.
On another note, I remember the time I visited the Sto. Niño Basilica in Cebu City, that was in November 2001 where I was four months pregnant then with my youngest child. I was on official travel to attend a seminar in Dakak and Cebu City was just a stopover. I was with a friend from another government office and our travel to Dakak was cancelled due to typhoon so we were forced to re-book our flight and went home but we had to stay in Cebu and let the storm pass. After the typhoon, we grabbed the opportunity to visit the Basilica and paid homage to the Sto. Niño. I was impressed with the design of the church and with the number of people waiting for the chance to pay respect to Sto. Niño. When it was my turn to face the Sto. Niño of Cebu, I felt elated and with a warm feeling asked the little Jesus for my safe pregnancy and delivery. I also prayed for my best friend to get pregnant who had been married for a while without a child. Then, we left Cebu with an anticipating heart.
True enough, after sometime all my requests were all granted and I’m forever grateful to Sto. Niño. I delivered a healthy baby girl who is now a talented 15 year old teenager. As to my best friend, she became pregnant and delivered a bouncing baby boy who is now an active thirteen year old lad.
I had also known of a family who wished for a child and was granted by the Sto. Niño of Cebu. After their wish came true, they make it a point to go back to Cebu every year bringing along their one and only girl not only for the festive celebration, but specifically to thank the little Jesus for answering their prayer. Today that girl that the couple wished for is now a Certified Public Accountant. Indeed, Sto. Niño answers prayers! Viva Pit Señior!