The Sinulog festival is one of the grandest and most colorful festivals in the Philippines. The main festival is held each year on the third Sunday of January in Cebu City to honor the Santo Niño, or the child Jesus, who used to be the patron saint of the whole province of Cebu. It is essentially a dance ritual that remembers the Filipino people’s pagan past and their acceptance of Christianity.
The festival commemorates the Filipino people’s acceptance of Christianity (specifically, Roman Catholicism). The first of these conversions happened in 1521 on the island of Cebu, when Rajah Humabon and his queen Amihan (Humamay) were baptised along with their subjects, becoming Carlos and Juana of Cebu.
It features some the country’s most colorful displays of pomp and pageantry. Participants garbed in bright-colored costumes dance to the rhythm of drums, trumpets, and native gongs. The streets are often lined with vendors and pedestrians all wanting to witness the street-dancing.
Recently, the cultural event has been commercialized as a tourist attraction and instead of traditional street-dancing from locals, Sinulog also came to mean a contest featuring contingents from various parts of the country. The Sinulog Contest is traditionally held in the Cebu City Sports Complex, where most of Cebu’s major provincial events are held.
The Sinulog celebration traditionally lasts for nine days, culminating on the final day with the Sinulog Grand Parade.
The word Sinulog comes from the Cebuano adverb sulog which is “like water current movement,” which 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. 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.
The Sinulog dance steps were believed to originate from Rajah Humabon’s adviser, Baladhay. It was during Humabon’s grief when Baladhay was driven sick. He then ordered his native tribe to bring Baladhay into a chapel where the Santo Niño was enthroned. Moments later, surprisingly, Baldhay was heard shouting, and was found dancing with utmost alertness. Baladhay was questioned as to whether why was he awake and shouting. Baladhay explained that he found a small child, pointing to the image of the Santo Niño, on top of him, and trying to wake him up. He scared the child away by shouting but couldn’t explain why he was dancing the movements of the river. Up to this day, the two-steps forward, and the one-step backward movement dance is still used by the Santo Niño devotees believing that it was the Santo Niño’s choice to have Baladhay dance what the holy child wants them to dance
On April 7, 1521, the Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan arrived and planted the cross on the shores of Cebu, claiming the territory in the name of the King of Spain. He presented the image of the child Jesus, the Santo Niño, as baptismal gift to Hara Amihan, wife of Rajah Humabon. Hara Amihan was later named, Queen Juana in honor of Juana, mother of Carlos I. Along with the rulers of the island, some 800 natives were also baptized to the Christian faith. At the moment of receiving the image, it was said that Queen Juana danced with joy bearing the image of the child Jesus. With the other natives following her example, this moment was regarded as the first Sinulog.
This event is frequently used as basis for most Sinulog dances, which dramatize the coming of the Spaniards and the presentation of the Santo Niño to the Queen. A popular theme among Sinulog dances is Queen Juana holding the Santo Niño in her arms and using it to bless her people who are often afflicted by sickness caused by demons and other evil spirits.
The 2015 Sinulog Festival parade was held on January 18 (Sunday).
The 2017 Sinulog Grand Parade will be on January 15 (Sunday). It is expected to end by 4:30 pm, after which there will a fireworks display.