Santo Niño Festivals in the Visayas
Philippine festivals are magnificent infusions of colors, rhythms and histories. These are huge cultural celebrations that attract both foreign and local visitors, often anchored on religious tradition. A good example is the festivals expressing devotion to the Señor Santo Niño or the Holy Child, whose feast month is January.
The Santo Niño is the most recognizable and widely venerated religious image. It is the oldest too, said to have been brought to the country in 1521. Many areas in the country celebrate the feast of the Niño, but people in the Visayas hold the grandest and biggest Santo Niño festivals.
Sinulog of Cebu City.
From the elaborately colorful costumes of festival dancers to the rhythms of drumbeats, gongs and trumpets, the Sinulog never ceases to keep the audience in awe, year after year. The footwork of the ritual dance mimics the movement of the water current, accentuated by chants of “Pit Señor!” by the dancers.
The Santo Niño image of Cebu came as a baptismal gift to Queen Juana from Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan. The native queen was baptized into the Christian faith together with her spouse Rajah Humabon and 800 of their tribesmen. Queen Juana reportedly danced the Sinulog with the Santo Niño in her arms to bless people who were ill.
Ati-Atihan of Kalibo, Aklan.
It is another colorful festival celebrating the Santo Niño where people dance to the sound of metal or stones on bottles. Participants paint their faces and bodies in black soot and wear brightly colored and elaborate costumes.
Ati-Atihan means “to be like the Atis.” Atis are indigenous inhabitants of the island who have distinctly dark skin and kinky hair. A long time ago, people from Borneo came to settle on the island. The Atis bartered their lands with goods brought in by the immigrants. To signify long- lasting friendship, the light-skinned Borneans painted themselves black to be like the Atis. When the Spaniards came to Christianize the island, the Santo Niño became an important element of the new faith and has since been the center of the natives’ religious celebrations.
Dinagyang of Iloilo City.
It is Iloilo City’s take on the Ati-Atihan. “Dinagyang” is Ilonggo for merrymaking or revelry. Dinagyang celebrants paint themselves black with colorful tattoos much like in the Ati-Atihan and street dancing is also an important part of the festivities.
The festival started when a replica of the Santo Niño arrived at San Jose Parish Church. Devotees flocked and celebrations before were confined inside the parish. Today, it is the Iloilo’s grandest festival; both a religious and cultural in nature, celebrated a week after Cebu’s Sinulog and Kalibo’s Ati-Atihan.
In the midst of all the dancing, fun and colorful festivities, these festivals are all about thanksgiving – for the divine guidance, mercy and love showered upon the people. These celebrations are all beautiful to watch and, better yet participate in – a celebration of faith adoration to the Holy Child.