Colourful in nature and massive in size, the Sinulog Festival is a much awaited event not only for the Cebuanos, but also for tourists from all over the world. It is a festival unlike any other in Southeast Asia, and it only happens once every year—on the third Sunday of every January. Read our close encounter with this unique festival!
Words & Photography: Irvin Hanni
“Viva Pit Señor!” goes the marching of people dressed in vivid attires and matching headgears. When first told to cover the Sinulog Festival this year, I didn’t really know what to expect. Words like “huge amount of people” and “parades, fiestas, and statues of Santo Niño” did pop out, but nothing prepared me for the sheer size of its entirety. Welcome to Sinulog, a festival to honour the Filipinos’ pagan origins, the acceptance of Christianity and commemoration of Santo Niño, the patron saint of Cebu.
SANTO NIÑO a.k.a. INFANT JESUS
Santo Niño (the name for Infant Jesus) holds a dear history to not only the Cebuanos, but to the whole of Philippines as well. In 1851, Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan (in the service of Charles V of Spain to search for the elusive spice island) came to Cebu and met with then ruler Rajah Humabon and his wife Humaway (later named Queen Juana). He then convinced them to pledge alliance with Spain and convert to Christianity, presenting Cebu with a cross and a statue of Santo Niño, as well as a church that was built later.
Years before this tale came about, the Sinulog dance was already practised by the people, though for different purposes. As Christianity steadily spread among the residents, people began to dance with the statue of Santo Niño instead of native idols. The Sinulog festival was first held in 1981, and has since grown into one of the biggest of the country, if not the whole region.
The day before the main parade, a fluvial procession was held. At the crack of dawn, crowd already gathered at Fort San Pedro to watch the Santo Niño statue paraded on a boat decked with flowers and decorations, all the way from Mandaue City to Fort San Pedro, and later to its home, the Basilica del Santo Niño. Many consider this an auspicious day as it is the only day of the year when the original Santo Niño statue is brought out for all to see.
VIVA PIT SEÑOR!
On festival day, people were already out and about as early as 5am. As vendors started to set up their grilled corn, temporary tattoos, or special festival key chains stalls, spectators began to congregate along the parade lines, eager to secure a nice spot to watch the fiesta. Some were decked in special festival masks or face paints, while there were also groups who came in matching shirts. Some even held up Santo Niño statues, and some dressed their cute toddlers in fancy attires and carried them up like how they would with a statue.
As the main parade rolled out, the spirit of the festival slowly began to make presence. In an instant, the city of Cebu became a city of fiesta with the beats of the drums and the chanting of “Viva pit señor!” The festival was so alive that it could be heard from as high as 33 floors up!
Together with chanting came dances and marching band contingents in vibrant costumes and happy smiles all around. Floats in different shapes and sizes paraded alongside amusing higantes, crafty puppets, and playful mascots.
Watching these floats and contingents was an estimated audience of 3.5 million people – a truly amazing sight! All along the route, there were people – lots and lots of them – peeking out from balconies, behind windows, on top of trucks, over fences, and communing in just about every space imaginable. School girls stood hand in hand, creating a human barricade to protect the parade, whilst little kids crouched down in between to peek for the best views.
The festivities went on all day long, and whilst the parade was fascinating, it was the tenacity of the excited Cebuanos that left me in awe.
A FESTIVAL TO REMEMBER
By 9pm, my tired travelling feet were ready to call it a day, though it didn’t seem like the party was going to end anytime soon. As I hopped off the AirAsia Zest float at the Fuente Osmeña Circle, there were still many energetic people everywhere.
I closed the night watching the fiesta continue from the top of Crown Regency Cebu building. I realized that it wasn’t the interesting floats, colourful costumes, funny higantes or the infectious dance, but instead it was the true festive spirit of the Filipinos. The zest and enthusiasm were apparent on both parade participants and spectators alike, and I have to admit, the joy was infectious as well. Pinoys are truly passionate about their Santo Niño, and it was definitely a festival to remember.
TIPS ON SURVIVING THE SINULOG FESTIVAL
- Sunblock, sunblock and sunblock. It can get pretty hot standing out under the sun.
- Keep hydrated! Prepare your own water bottle or visit one of the many water stations along the parade.
- Charge your camera and make sure there is plenty of space in the memory card. Many beautiful shots not to be missed!
- Bring a poncho or an umbrella in case it rains (even if you don’t, fear not as umbrella vendors will appear from out of nowhere as soon as you can feel the first drop).
- Buy a mask to wear it during the festival or as souvenirs. Depending on the vendor and your bargaining skills, it costs between 40 – 70 Philippine Pesos.
- Book your flights and hotel early to get the best rates and location.
GETTING THERE Fly to Cebu from Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu, Manila, Davao, Seoul and Busan via AirAsia. For flight information and the lowest fares, go to www.airasia.com.
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