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Celebrating Sinulog: Devotees’ Faith in the Santo Niño
Cebu is known for its grand Sinulog Festival. Every January, the whole province honors the Santo Niño or the child Jesus. Millions of locals and tourists join the colorful and lively celebration that features fun-filled activities. During the day, the streets are packed with participants dressed in vibrant costumes who are dancing to the loud rhythm of the drums, trumpets and gongs. Onlookers are busy taking pictures or simply enjoying the Sinulog fever. This festival is also known for concerts and parties in the evening.
Some may just associate Sinulog for a time of partying and merriment, but what is the true meaning of Sinulog for devotees? Why do they take time to complete the novena masses? Why do they sacrifice to join the long processions?
Sinulog comes from the Cebuano word “sulog” that typically means “like water current movement.” This describes the forward-backward movement of the Sinulog dance. This festivity lasts for nine days, which culminates with the Sinulog Grand Parade. The fluvial procession is held a day before the parade. At dawn, the image of the Santo Niño is carried on a pump boat, which is adorned with flowers and candles, from Mandaue City to Cebu City. The procession ends at the Basilica del Santo Niño with a reenactment of the Christianization of Cebu. Another solemn procession transpires in the afternoon along the major streets of the metro.
Devotion to the Santo Niño
Despite their busy schedules, devotees take time to participate in the Sinulog novena masses and processions. Rain or shine, they will be there to praise and worship the Santo Niño. It would not matter if they have to stand for hours in the middle of thousands of people. Each of them has a story to tell about how the Santo Niño changed their life. Some have wishes they believe that the Child Jesus would grant or an ailment that He would heal. Others express their gratitude for the blessings they receive. Some devotees just feel that the miracles that have happened in their lives were performed by the Santo Niño.
Val Sandiego, a famous choreographer in Cebu, is a faithful devotee of the Santo Niño. His mother, Luz, was a big part of the first Sinulog Festival. In the late ‘70s, she was commissioned by the then mayor of Cebu City to do a research on the Sinulog Festival. Luz, who was a ballet teacher, performed the Sinulog dance in 1978. She pledged to dance every year after that, praying that her husband Rafael would be healed from brain cancer. Luz’s faith in the Santo Niño was strengthened when he was cured. Val, together with the Sandiego dance troupe, performs every year to continue the pledge of his mom.
Val’s faith was tested when his house and dance studio were burned 40 days after his father’s death. A faulty wiring at the back of the studio caused the fire and burned the whole studio that housed their Sinulog costumes. Hundreds of Santo Niño images were also engulfed in the fire. Despite that unfortunate event, Val is still thankful that no family member got injured.
“Gozos/Batobalani sa Gugma”
During the novena masses, devotees wave their hands and sing the “Gozos” because they believe that the Santo Niño is the “batobalani” or magnet of love. They express their faith, praise, joy, and submission to the Child Jesus. While some would just mimic not knowing what the gesture means, those who truly believe in the power of the Santo Niño wave their hands to express their intimacy to Him, calling unto Him to heed their intentions and pleas.
Next time you attend mass at the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño, sing along with the devotees by uttering these meaningful lyrics:
Bato balani sa gugma,
Sa daang tawo palangga.
Kanamo malooy ka unta
Nga kanimo nanggilaba
Dinhi sa siyudad sa Sugbo
ang matahum mong larawan.
sa unang mga misyonero,
sa usang balay hipalgan.
Kanila ikaw nagpakita
gikan da sa imong gugma.
Giludhan ka ug gisimba
niadtong mga kaparian
sa tanang mga katawhan
sa mga ponoan nila:
kay sa pagtan-aw kanimo
Kristiyanos sila nahimo.
Ang simbahan gipatindog
niadtong mga tawhana,
aron ang larawan nimo
dunay usang puluyanan.
ug didto gihangyo nila
nga kaluy-an nimo sila.
Nangayo kami kanimo
nga ang matahum mong larawan,
sa sulud sa kalag namo
kay sa tanang kinahanglan
ikaw ang among dalangpan.
Symbol of faith
Whether the testimonials of miracles are real or not, the Santo Niño continues to be a powerful symbol of faith especially to Cebuanos. We always hear stories of how the Holy Child has touched the lives of people, may it be a blind man being able to see, a student passing the board exam or somebody landing his dream job. They are a testimony to the power of faith and a lot of people gain comfort from these tales. People retell these miracles to those who faithfully believe in Him. The number of devotees continues to grow over the years, even prompting the construction of a pilgrim center within the Basilica compound.
According to an iconology of the image of the Santo Niño, the red cape represents the blood that the Holy Child would one day shed on the cross (cf. 1 Peter 1). His white vestment is a symbol of the reality of his resurrection behind the cross (cf. Hebrews 12). The crown shows that the child born unto us is king (cf. Isaiah 9). The orb that he holds on his left hand reminds us that the world will always be in His providential hand (cf. Psalm 95) while the scepter on his right hand is a manifestation that He is Lord of peace (cf. John 14). The Santo Niño is garbed in a warrior’s attire to remind us that God fights for us (cf. Exodus 15).
The original image of the Santo Niño de Cebu is said to be the gift of Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan’s to Queen Juana in 1521. The Spaniards, led by Miguel Lopez Lagazpi, came to Cebu to christianize the natives in 1565. Since the Cebuanos were hostile, the Spaniards set the villages on fire. The image of the Santo Niño was later on found unharmed. This was considered the first miracle of the Child Jesus.
How about you? Do you participate in the Sinulog celebration? What does this festival mean to you?
View Larger Map
A) Basilica del Santo Niño, Osmeña Blvd., Cebu City
B) Mandaue City