The Sinulog Festival is an annual cultural celebration held every third Sunday of January.
For most Filipinos, the holidays are over right after New Year’s Day. But in Cebu, there is a lot more to celebrate as Cebuanos look forward to the famous Sinulog Festival!
This is when you will hear the locals chanting Pit Senyor! and witness huge crowds participating in the many festivities and novena masses.
In the weeks leading up to the third Sunday of January, Cebuanos can be seen roaming the streets in colorful shirts and hats. And when Sinulog day comes, hundreds of contingents will be parading the streets in festive costumes.
But what is it about this festival that makes it the biggest celebration in the Philippines? Let’s delve into some quick facts and trivia about this grandiose event.
What Is the Sinulog Festival?
The Sinulog Festival is an annual religious and cultural celebration in honor of one of the country’s historic relics: the Santo Niño de Cebu. This refers to the statue of Baby Jesus that was handed to Rajah Humabon of Cebu City by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1521.
The festival is considered one of the most important historical events in Cebu, as it paved the way for the birth of Christianity in the Philippines.
A Brief History of the Sinulog Festival
Historians say that the Sinulog Festival is the link between the country’s pagan past and its Christian present. It was believed that Sinulog was danced by the natives in honor of their wooden idols and anitos even before Ferdinand Magellan came to Cebu.
Where did the Santo Niño come from? It was when Magellan came to Cebu and gave Hara Amihan a gift. He gave Hara Amihan, the wife of Rajah Humabon, the image of Santo Niño as a baptismal gift (she was later named Queen Juana).
Many people converted to Roman Catholicism after Magellan introduced Christianity to the country.
Where Does the Term "Sinulog" Come From?
The Sinulog dance is done by taking two steps forward and one step back while holding a statue of Santo Niño.
The word “Sinulog” is derived from the Cebuano term which means “like the movement of water.” It refers to the motion of the water, as portrayed by Sinulog dancers during the festival celebration.
So what do water movements have to do with the Sinulog Festival? It’s when you dance two steps forward and one step backward to resemble the wave current of Cebu’s Pahina River, also referred to as “sulog” in the Cebuano dialect (sulog means water current).
Considered to be the biggest event in the Philippines, the Sinulog Festival is held every January as a thanksgiving to Santo Niño. This annual celebration has become so popular that it attracts 1 to 2 million people (including international tourists) every year.
What Happens during the Sinulog Festival?
As the festival becomes more and more famous each year, the Cebu City government continues to implement several safety protocols and guidelines to ensure that everyone has a safe and memorable time during the Sinulog celebration.
Traffic can get really bad as road closures are put in place for the grand parade and street dance competitions. Another factor contributing to this are the hundreds of people roaming the streets to take part in the festivities.
Even the costumes and dances can get pretty extreme, as they highlight the essence of this cultural phenomenon. All kinds of events, exhibits, beauty pageants, photo contests, and singing and dancing competitions are some of the many activities one can enjoy throughout Sinulog week.
During Sinulog weekend, there will also be concerts, fireworks displays, fun runs, street fairs, cultural shows, and street parties all around Cebu City.
How to Take Part and Enjoy Sinulog
Now that you know how the Sinulog Festival started and what you can expect during the celebration, here are some helpful tips on how you can enjoy the week-long festival.
1. Experience the Sinulog at the grandstand.
The Sinulog Festival can be overwhelming, seeing as it is the biggest event in the country. Yes, you can be easily carried away by other events going on throughout the festival. But if you’re planning to take part in the celebration, then Sinulog at the grandstand is something that you shouldn’t miss.
This is because it’s the best spot where you can witness participants from across the country perform their 5-minute ritual dance. You will get to enjoy the full experience watching the graceful dance routines along with the intricate and unique costumes of every contingent.
2. Don’t miss out on the street party.
Most locals simply go out dancing and drinking at local pubs during Sinulog. Others bring the celebration to the streets by mingling with other people. Even foreigners take part in the fun too!
It can get really crowded in some areas, so don’t be surprised if someone smears your face with paint (don’t worry, it’s safe!) as you roam the streets.
Remember, you don’t have to participate in all of the fun if you don’t want to. Simply walking along the streets is fun enough. You’ll be greeted with lots of Pit Senyor! paired with a hug or a pat on the shoulder.
Again, keep in mind that Sinulog is the biggest event in the country. As such, it can be difficult to navigate the entire event if you’re not familiar with the routes around the city.
To ensure a fun and safe experience during the festival, here are some quick tips to take note of.
Tip #1. Bring a bottle of water. It’s important to keep yourself hydrated throughout the day, especially since you’ll be doing a lot of walking (whether you like it or not). The locals already know that the best way to get around the city during this time is to walk. The roads can get chaotic, and you might not be able to get a ride or book one if you don’t want to travel on foot.
Tip #2. Wear comfy clothes that you won’t mind getting paint on. The goal is to have fun, and the locals love spreading the excitement by spraying water or beer on one another and getting their faces painted in bright colors. Even if you don’t plan on taking part in any of that, you’re bound to bump into some people who might already be covered in paint.
Tip #3. Bring enough money with you. You can never be sure of what will happen when you’re out on the streets. You might end up booking a room at an expensive hotel if you’re too tired to go home (as most affordable hotels are fully booked at this time).
Some establishments and vendors might even jack up the price of their products and services in line with the festival.
If you do decide to go home after taking part in the festivities, the only ride you’ll most likely get is from a cab, so it would be good to have some extra cash on you.
Related: The Sinulog Survival Guide: What to Do during the Festival
Tip #4. Take photos. Whether you want to keep them as a souvenir or to persuade a friend to come with you next time, you will definitely want some snaps of yourself attending the event. This way, when you’re too tired to join the next Sinulog celebration, you’ll have awesome pictures to remind you of how great the event truly is.
Part of this religious celebration is the Grand Parade and Street Dancing Competition.
Note: When you take photos of contingents during the grand parade and street dancing competition, make sure to capture some great moments, like their smiles or their emotions as they’re dancing to the beat of Sinulog.
Experience the Sinulog Festival in Cebu
To this day, there is nothing quite like the Sinulog Festival in Cebu. It’s more than just a cultural celebration. For many Cebuanos, it’s part of their identity, and you can see how happy and proud they are to call the incredible island of Cebu their home.
If you want to have the full Sinulog experience, don’t miss out on any of the festivities and see how the locals celebrate this grand event.