Sinulog Festival

Discover first hand the history and Origin of Sinulog in Basilica Minore de Sto. Nino!

In the Philippines, there is a place that probably has the longest continuous celebration – starting from September when Christmas songs, ‘Merry Christmas!” to the shouting of “Pit Senyor!” during the Sinulog Festival culminating on the third Sunday of January. This goes beyond the feast of Epiphany which ends the Advent Season.

It is also about this time that Sinulog preparations are visible everywhere in Cebu City. What is probably more well-known is the Sinulog Parade. It has generated interest and millions of people visit Cebu for the parade. The Sinulog dance choreography, costumes, and props is a year-long preparation for most.

The Sinulog traces its history to the year 1521. The year marked the Christianization of the Philippines, which was just a group of islands (numbering 7,100) with different identities and different leaders. The discovery of Cebu by a Portugese named Ferdinand Magellan with the Spanish fleet sent by the Spanish King led to the baptism of Datu Humadon and Hara Amihan (Queen Juana) and paved the way to Christianity. Queen Juana was given an image of the Infant Jesus of Prague by Ferdinand Magellan as the baptismal gift. This was all before Magellan was killed by Lapulapu, another chieftain of Mactan who resisted the colonizers.

The first “Sinulog” was said to have originated when the adviser of King Humabon named Baladhay fell sick. In his grief, King Humabon ordered that Baladhay be brought to the room where he had enthroned the image, along with the other pagan gods of native Cebuanos. After a few days, Baladhay was reportedly cured. People found an alert Baladhay who was by then shouting and dancing. That probably was the backdrop of the deep devotion and thanksgiving to the Holy Child, to whose name a lot of healing miracles have been attributed. The word “Sinulog” is the same as “Sinug”, which roughly means “water current movement”. So any dancer becomes as graceful as the flow of water in the winding river with the steps of Sinulog that has always been two steps forward and one step backward which was and always seen in churches (especially in the Basilica Minore de Sto. Nino, where the original image given to Queen Juana is still enthroned).

Yes, there has always been “sinug” dancing, mostly inside the Sto. Nino church. It can also be seen in the Magellan’s Cross beside the Sto. Nino church where women sell candles offering to dance the “sinug” as well. The dance is performed singly or in groups always with chanting and even shouting “Pit Senyor!”.

“Pit Senyor” is short for “panangpit sa Senyor” in Cebuano. And Pit Senyor means in English “Call on the Child Jesus” or “Pray to the Child Jesus”. Before dancing, the “sinug” dancer would ask your name and your prayer-petition. The dancer would then include in her dance-prayer our petition along with your name, so the chanting becomes “Pit Senyor, kang tatay kini” or the equivalent name of the one asking for a petition. After dancing, the candles used (and paid for by the customer) are lit at a certain portion outside the church and the customer continues to pray there, then leaving with the candles still burning along with the others. The dance steps inside or around the church are still the same basic steps – 2 steps forward and 1 step backward. Every Friday, there are always people doing the Sinulog dance in Sto. Nino Church where devotees go for the Novena to the image of Sto. Nino.

This is now immortalized by the “Sinulog Festival” which was first organized by David Odilao, the Regional Director of the Ministry of Youth and Development. It drew the participation mostly of schools, government offices and private companies based in Cebu province. But now, contingents come from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao – the three largest group of islands in the Philippines – pay homage to Sto. Nino through their participation in the Sinulog.

The street-dancing route of the Sinulog differs every so often depending on what the organizers believe would bring the most orderly event because this particular part of the Sinulog celebration of street-dancing ending into one large venue for the final dance is attended by millions of people spread in the whole route. As in the past, whatever is the route, people still came in droves, Filipinos and foreigners from different religions and cultures. So far, the Sinulog has been the most peaceful and the grandest celebration in this part of the country. The latest technology along with the helicopters are able to monitor the movement of people and help prevent untoward incidents.

However, not many people know that the Sinulog is not just the Sinulog parade that highlights the dancing and the beating of drums, trumpets, and the native gongs, but Sinulog is actually a package of many other religious and cultural activities, in different locations in Cebu and even includes the neighboring Mandaue City — a prime industrial city, and Lapu-Lapu City — a prime historical-cultural city which are involved on the day of the Fluvial Procession when the image of the Holy Mother is brought to the Shrine of St. Joseph and joins the Birhen sa Regla in a Fluvial Procession at the Mactan Channel. This is part of the Sinulog which draws commercial boats, private yachts, outriggers, and motorized bancas, jet skis with colorful buntings and music of the Sinulog travel the short length of the channel. One must remember that Cebu is the busiest port in the Philippines, with a big majority of shipping companies being based in Cebu, the Fluvial Procession gives a breath of fresh air in this highly urbanized center of Central Visayas.

In Asia, the Sinulog is called the “Mother of All Festivals.” No wonder that long before the Sinulog Festival, airline bookings, hotel reservations, tourist itineraries for Cebu destinations and even including those for the nearby provinces as side trips to the Sinulog already starts as Cebuanos shout to the world “Merry Christmas and “Pit Senyor” in the same breath of joy.

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