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Sinulog Festival: A Grand Celebration in Cebu, Philippines

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Are you all back to the usual routine after New Year’s Day? Meanwhile, in some parts of the world, the celebration still lives on. In this article I am taking you to my hometown, my city is even brighter in January as we prepare the celebration every third Sunday of this month. To start my 2021 travel story, here is our Sinulog Festival A Religious and Grand Celebration in Cebu, Philippines!

My Beloved Cebu!

An advertisement jingle is playing on my mind now: Ce-boom, Ce-boom, shalalala, Ce-boom, Ce-boom!

Oh, I miss home! My last visit is just before the pandemic lockdown. I am from Cebu, a Cebuano. Cebu City is the Queen City of the South and the second major city in the Philippines after the capital city, Manila. A small island in the Visayas Region with pristine beaches, white and powdery sands. Over the years it has risen to a vibrant cosmopolitan city attracting millions of tourists all year round. Our airport, Mactan International Airport (CEB) has direct international flights by major airlines from/to Asia and the Middle East. Hongkong, Japan, Korea, Dubai, and Qatar have direct flights to name a few. For all travelers, touching down in Cebu is the least of your worries!

On this occasion, as I introduce to you my roots, I am sharing with you the rich religious and cultural aspects that Cebu prides.

The Basilica filled with devotees and pilgrims. Photo Credits to Ryan Araneta

The Basilica

The Church of the Child Jesus or The Basilica of Santo Nino is always at the heart of every Cebuano. One of my earliest childhood memories is attending masses at the Basilica, and at that time I don’t understand what is it about. All I remember is that my mom takes me to this Church on a Friday, I gaze to the large structure of the church, crowded with churchgoers, we lit candles and my eyes to the balloon seller. (I am always looking foward for the balloon after the mass!)

On this Church is the Child Jesus or the Santo Nino whom many of us are faithful to him. People from all walks of life attend for prayer of devotion every Friday. While growing up, my devotion is a big part of my spiritual life and I never fail visiting the Basilica whenever I’m home.

Christianity in the Philippines

In history, the Philippines was conquered by Spain in the 15th century for about 300 years. Our culture is greatly influenced by the Spanish colonization. Magellan, a Portuguese explorer arrives in Cebu, carrying the statue of the Child Jesus as a gift to the ruler, Rajah Humabon. From this date marks the birth of Christianity in the Philippines, an important religious history.

The Sinulog Festival

Sinulog is a prayer-ritual dance in honor of the child Jesus. With the drumbeat, the dance movement is a two-step forward and one-step backward. The word sinulog comes from the word sulog meaning water current movement, like the dance movement itself. This festival commemorates the acceptance of the statue of the baby Jesus and the start of Christianity.

Cebu City is bursting with festivities every January. Red and yellow (the colors of the Child Jesus’ clothing) are the colors of the streets, concerts here and there, markets along Jones Street, 9- days novena at the Basilica, Sinulog dances in schools, fluvial parades (solemn procession on Cebu seas), traditional foot procession around the city, and on the feast day the Mardi Gras!

At the Basilica, there is a 9-day mass novena before the day of the feast flock by thousands of pilgrims and devotees. The surrounding roads are close to give way to pedestrians. Including the feast day, we are celebrating for a total of eleven days. The last day, after the feast is the awarding of the Sinulog winners. Indeed, the busiest time in Cebu!

A Glimpse of Sinulog Festivities

The Mardi Gras

It takes months for the preparation of the grand parade. This is a competition of choreographed Sinulog dances participated by all regions across the country. Students, government and private employees, religious groups, business sectors, and various organizations in the society take part in this grand occasion. Recently, we have participants from abroad too. The dance is the reenactment of the story of Magellan’s arrival in Cebu and the spread of Christianity. The parade started in Cebu in 1980.

Further Reading: The History of Sinulog

Apart from the dances, there are floats and “giants” entries. It is during the feast day, on the third Sunday of January that the Mardi Gras is held along the major roads in Cebu. What an incredible sight to see the intricate and colorful costumes and props, artistic choreography, and drum beats that make you dance too!

The parade usually starts mid-morning and lasts till early evening then and afterward a party kicks off until the early morn. There is so much energy all around!

Lastly, don’t forget to shout Pit Senyor!

(Pit means Sangpit in Cebuano dialect means a call or plead. Pit Senyor is a call to the King!)

If you haven’t touchdown Cebu Philippines yet, I hope you experience our Sinulog Festival A Glorious Celebration.

2021: The 500 Years of Christianity

The year 2021 is filled with anticipation as it marks the 500th year as history recounts the arrival of Christianity in the year 1521. Therefore, it is the biggest celebration of this century and having the oldest tradition.

You may be wondering, now at the time of the coronavirus pandemic, is there a celebration?

Sinulog 2021, in time of Coronavirus pandemic

Everything is cancelled.

The first four days of mass at the Basilica allowed churchgoers at 50% capacity. But due to the rising number of pilgrims, the remaining days will be by online streaming. There are so many challenges with crowd control and add to the fact that we are facing an invisible enemy.

It certainly cast a gloomy atmosphere in the city. This is how the pandemic is affecting us. However, life has to go on…

Living a life with faith…

You might be wondering why is there so much devotion for the child Jesus?

Many of us, in third-world countries, especially the Philippines have our shares of hardships. Every year, calamities strike us like typhoons or drought. People struggle to make ends meet every day and we take refuge spiritually for graces, guidance, and strength.

For the successful, they never fail to look back. We know where we came from and we desire to pay forward the blessings we receive. In our everyday lives, there are so many things to thank for thus, we say a prayer of gratitude.

Moreover, there are so many stories of the miracles of the child Jesus in one’s life. Those who seek healing and even the most impossible situations cling to faith. Today, with the pandemic, we fervently pray for a miracle to end this.

That’s why in the Basilica people join in prayer as ONE, never divided by any societal status. Sometimes when I look around I see faces of hope and surrender to the Holy One.

Santo Niño, please help us…

Related Article: The Song – Bato Balani sa Gugma Touching Lives of Cebuanos

The 2021 Novena Mass at the Basilica (4 days only). Photo credits to BSMNCebu FB Page

So far, what do you think about the grand and Sinulog Festival in Cebu, Philippines?

When in Cebu, Go Local!

Finally, I am almost at the end of this article and as part of the travel tribe, here are my few cents whenever you head to Cebu. Go local! What I mean is to explore the streets of Cebu City. Where to start?

  • Basilica de Minore del Santo Niño de Cebu. In this complex, you will find the church mentioned in this article, founded by Fr. Andres de Urdaneta on April 28, 1565. Augustinian Priests are assigned in this church. The architecture is a blend of Neo-Classical, Romanesque, and Muslim styles. The complex has a museum, library and other parts of the Church that you can explore. For more information, find out more here.
  • Magellan’s Cross. Fronting the Basilica and part of the complex is a circular structure with a cross at the top. This symbolizes the cross during the Magellan’s arrival and the baptism of the rulers and 800 subjects with the acceptance of Christianity.
  • Cebu City Hall. Opposite the Basilica, a few meters walk from Magellan’s cross is the City Hall, where the Mayor and the rest of the Cebu City leaders are holding offices.
  • Carbon Public Market. This the oldest farmer market in Cebu. Here you can find fresh produce of local vegetables, fruits, crops and also local handicrafts.
  • Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral. Another old church, established as diocese in the year 1595 and now is the Metropolitan Cathedral and Parish of Saint Vitalis and of the Immaculate Conception with a Spanish colonial architecture.
  • Colon Street. A historical downtown and one of the oldest streets in the Philippines. Before the construction of malls, it has shops, cinemas, restaurants and business establishments as well. Used to be a bustling commercial street.

Map

Here is the map of the Basilica to guide you in exploring the roads and the places I mentioned. This is one of the major landmarks in Cebu. A walk to the surrounding streets such as Osmeña Boulevard, Magallanes and Legaspi Streets (sounds Spanish, right) provides you a glimpse of Cebu’s business and commerce from decades ago. Mostly set up by Filipino-Chinese merchants and ran by generations of families. So to speak, we also have Chinese influence and the city comes alive again on February, for the Chinese New Year Celebration. The drumbeat shifts to the rhythm of the dragon dance. Interesting right? Oh well, this calls for another write-up!

  • Basilica Minore del Santo Niño de Cebu

  • Pilgrim’s Center, Osmeña Blvd, Cebu City, 6000 Cebu, Philippines

Warning!

This street exploration by foot may not be for everyone. I may warn you of possible pickpocketers especially on the sidewalk and in the market. (So far, I haven’t been pickpocketed in all my life in these places.) It may be a lot of noise, chaotic plus the heat. During my visit, I do see tourist backpackers roaming the city. Though another option is going by car, there are a lot of tour companies where you can arrange for a city tour and guides are more than happy to tell you stories and our history.

The reason why I suggested these places simply because this is the core of Cebu. Witness the ordinary lives of Cebuanos and enrich yourself with history and culture. It will only take a day or less and after this, you can retreat to the comfort of your accommodation, a luxury hotel or a trip to the suburbs or beach areas.

While the city is still trying to keep the old structures, we don’t know until when. Later on, new buildings will be constructed. And so long, what has been. By that time, you have history books and articles to dig in. So, visit whenever you can!

Final Thoughts

I’m a thousand miles away and all I could do is to stream online the novena masses. I can’t help feeling nostalgic, as it has always been a part of my life. I am saddened with the effects of pandemic. Now, realizing that my fellow Cebuanos who are at home are feeling the same way too, unable to celebrate this festival.

Albeit we come from different religious backgrounds or have different expressions in our spirituality. One thing for sure is that spirituality gives meaning and purpose to our lives.

What we believe in also transcends in our actions and who we are as beings. Significantly, for most of us Cebuanos, it is faith that defines us.

Sa among pinalangga (To Our Beloved), VIVA PIT SEÑOR!; VIVA SEÑOR SANTO NIÑO!

Devotees and Pilgrims at the Basilica: Photo Credits to Ryan Araneta

Well, this is the end of the Sinulog Festival in Cebu, Philippines article which I am happy to share with you! This is also my first article featuring Southeast Asia.

For those been away from home, how much do you miss Cebu?

Has anyone been to Cebu?

Is there a festivity in other parts of the world, similar to this?

I love to hear your feedback!

P.S. Special thanks to Ryan Araneta, a fellow Cebuano and Lifestyle Photographer based in Texas, USA for the awesome Sinulog Photos! Check out his works on this website.

Thanks to Jonna, Ricabata, and Niña (my friend named after the child Jesus, Niño) for the inputs.

Previous Article: The Enduring Times of 2020

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The pictures are super beautiful! I hope to one day be able to visit the Philippines 🙂 I’s been so many years since I’ve been able to travel, I hope it’ll be possible again soon.

Thanks for dropping by! The photos were captured by my childhood friend who’s into photography. So many emotions right? That’s cool, adding Cebu on your bucket list! 😉

This was such a wonderful and heartfelt post! I could feel how much you miss it, the longing seeps through your words. I have never been to Cebu, never been to the Philippines, but one day I hope to get there and visit it. I don’t know of any other festival like this so it made me even more curious! Thank you for sharing with us the wonderful Cebu 🙂

Hi there! Glad this article inspired you to visit my hometown in the future. Yes, so many memories brought back while I wrote this. And I think this the best way I can introduce where I come from. Thank you so much 😉

Hi Molly thanks for the kind feedback. Indeed a wonderful celebration we look forward to every year no matter if we are away from home.

I would love to visit Cebu for this. The colours, the festivities they look so wonderful. Such a shame that they can’t celebrate this year on the centenary.

Wow! How amazing to have this happening where you’re from! I can imagine it would be hard to be away from something that looks so spectacular. The outfits in the video are amazing and so full of colour. Thank you so much for sharing about this. It’s great to learn about other places. I’ve heard of Cebu before but have never been. Would love to go though! 🙂

I didn’t know you were from the Philippines, I thought you were from Cyprus! Wow, Vinn, I’m not surprised you’re a little nostalgic though, these are incredible festivals. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything like these, but never say never! Thank you for such a detailed and informative post 🙂

Hi Lisa, Cebu is my birthplace 😉 All my friends from Cebu, whereever we are in the world, we always say how we wish we are in Cebu every January. Glad you enjoyed the article! Thank you 😉

Hi, thanks for the read! It may take a while to be home due to the pandemic. For now, I am connecting online with people back home just like the rest of us!

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