In the Philippines, one of the most popular devotions is the Santo Niño (The Most Holy Child Jesus) which falls on the third Sunday of January (Sunday 17 January 2016). On this day within the city of Cebu, there is a great feast in honour of the Most Holy Child of Jesus. The Basilica del Santo Niño is always packed with pilgrims at every Eucharistic Celebration, and at any other celebrations that form part of this fiesta.
In the months prior to the feast day, Cebu and other neighbouring places in the Philippines, join in the preparation of this big event. The Church prepares the people for their spiritual journey. The government also has their preparations such as beautifying the streets. In the coastal areas, there is a fluvial parade of boats on the sea with the image of Sto. Niño, and the re-enactment or dramatization of the beginning of Christianity in the Philippines.
On the day before the fiesta, thousands of pilgrims process with the image of The Most Holy Child Jesus. Thousands more join in as the procession moves around the city streets. The streets, highways, establishments, and houses are all colourful and highly decorated. The lights and decorations are in abundance because it is still the Season of Christmas. The image of the Most Holy Child Jesus is displayed prominently in various locations. People’s costumes, different kinds of props and floats are also given special attention.
For Filipinos, this fiesta is part of their very long Christmas preparations and celebrations. Once the months ending in “ber” (eg September, October, etc ) have started, Christmas carols begin playing everywhere in the city. When January comes around, this begins the intense preparation for the feast of the Most Holy Child Jesus where many people from different places witness and join in this huge event. Schools from different levels are also involved in that big day.
The aim and theme of the celebration always has a religious aspect, focusing on Christian history, our faith to the Child Jesus and it tells us about the first Filipinos who were baptized as Christians by Ferdinand Magellan, the Portuguese explorer who discovered the Philippines.
When I was studying at university, I joined the dance troupe. As a physical education teacher, it was a requirement for us to participate in the prayer-dancing parade. That cultural festival is called the “Sinulog” celebration. The Sinulog is a joyful celebration because it is a jubilant devotion to The Most Holy Child Jesus. We feel it in our hearts as we dance with the Child Jesus.
The Sinulog is a dance ritual of pre-Hispanic indigenous origin. The dancer moves two steps forward and one step backward to the rhythmic sound of drums. This movement resembles the current (sulog) of what was then known as Cebu’s Pahina River. Thus the name Sinulog.
I remember that we had to assemble, at 6:30am, in the area where we would start the street dancing at that early hour of the morning. The dancing would go on until 8:00 in the evening.
During my time, back in 1990-91, the street dancing was comprised of groups of up to 200 male and female dancers. Each group would have their own live music played with instruments such as drums, lyres and other native instruments, to which they would dance and pray simultaneously.
Within each group there was one person who was acting-dancing as Queen Juana, the first among the women to be baptized a Christian. She is always well dressed, highly decorated and very colourful. She is also the one who holds the Child Jesus as she dances in the streets – this is because it was Queen Juana who received the gift of the Child Jesus by Ferdinand Magellan’s group.
While dancing, we prayed by chanting words such as: “Pit Senyor, Viva Senyor Santo Niño (Long live Sr. Santo Niño)”. We also prayed for the family, for our fathers and our mothers. Any form of short prayer was prayed out loud, as a group in unison, and individually. We prayed deeply within our hearts. This mantra prayer is repeated; everybody knows it and prays it.
In front of the Basilica of the Santo Niño, prayer warriors sell candles. Once the candles have been sold, the seller dances the simple sinulog dance steps. They pray while dancing with the candles in their hands, offering a prayer intention for the one who has bought their candles.
The Sinulog has seen innovations in choreography and musicality however there is always only one beat, one type of music being used. As time has moved on, the Sinulog may been seen as having become somewhat commercialized but in the hearts of the Filipino people, especially the Cebuanos (those living in Cebu), is a genuine intention to pray and celebrate together with The Most Holy Child Jesus. It is in our culture, tradition and within the hearts and minds of every Filipino person who jubilantly celebrates that feast of The Most Holy Child Jesus, not only in Cebu, but in other parts of the Philippines.
As a Sister from the Philippines, I can heartily say that we feel the joyful experience of the presence of that Most Holy Child Jesus in the midst of us. As we contemplate His lively spirit as a child, He gives us the joyful effect in our life, deeply within our heart. When God is in the midst of us, no heart can be sad or go astray. There can be no room for sadness when there is always joy in our heart. If we live His presence, even when we experience difficulties in life, we have high hopes that the Sto Niño will help us.
I know that on my spiritual journey I am still dancing with the God who is the giver of life and the source of my joy. I synchronize my dance steps and movements with Him. He is a good dancer who guides my feet wherever they go and He does a lot of different dance moves, styles. The Lord shows me when I have to slow down my steps or go faster in my movements. Discipline, focusing, and continued practicing is important to master the movements and steps of Jesus. Jesus is the best dancer and the best teacher.
One day when I am in the last full show of my life, I will know if I have danced it well by heart. I will understand if I have learned and mastered His dance moves. I also know that He is always there to guide me patiently. Like singing, dancing while praying is praying twice. Whether dancing, singing or praying, it is a call to give life… it is life itself that expresses that deepness of a person.
And so today, as our brothers and sisters in the Philippines (and around the world) join in this fiesta and the Sinulog, let us pray and joyfully dance with and for the little Child Jesus.
Prayer to The Most Holy Child Jesus
My beloved Child Jesus,
you and your most Holy Mother
have always spoken the holiest words.
Your words are truth and charity.
I too want to speak according to truth and charity,
but never against these divine virtues.
O adorable Jesus, divine teacher,
teach me to always speak justly and rightly,
especially when I meditate and pray
before your divine majesty.
— St Annibale Maria Di Francia
Have you participated in this fiesta?
Feel welcome to share your experiences in our comments section below!