January is marked in the Philippines with several festivals honoring the Sto. Niño or the Holy Child. The most famous is the Sinulog Festival in Cebu City, but in other parts of the country, there are: the Ati-Atihan Festival in Kalibo, Aklan; Dinagyang Festival in Iloilo City; Binanog Festival in Lambonao, Iloilo; Biniray in Romblon; Binirayan and Handugan in Antique; Pachada Senor in Cagayan de Oro City; Kahimunan in Butuan City; Zambulawan in Pagadian City;
Sinulog (Kabangkalan) Festival in Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental; the Makato Sto. Niño Festival in Poblacion Makato, Aklan; the Kahimunan Festival in Libertad, Butuan City; Batan Ati-Ati Malakara Festival in Poblacion Batan, Aklan; the Bansudani Festival in Bansud, Oriental Mindoro; the Altavas Sto. Niño Festival in Poblacion Altavas, Aklan ; the Ibajay Ati-Ati Municipal and Devotional Fiesta in Ibajay, Aklan; the Dinagsa Ati-Atihan Festival in Cadiz City, Negros Occidental; the Hinirugyaw Festival in Calinog, Iloilo; the Sto. Niño Festival in Malolos, Bulacan; and the Tondo Fiesta, in Manila.
Niño, grand processions of folk, antique and new images of the Holy Child, street dancing,
beauty pageants, flea markets and fireworks. Images of the Sto. Niño are varied, reflecting an
individualʼs occupation or preference - as a sleeping child, a keeper of the world, a shepherd
boy, a student, etc. It has been observed that this image is the most dressed among all images.
The Filipinosʼ devotion to the Santo Niño reflects a love for children, who are usually a familyʼs
source of inspiration and joy. The Catholic Church in the Philippines sets the Holy Child as an example of humility, and as a celebration of the Incarnation. The Child Jesus is also a powerful
gospel statement that in becoming like little children will we be able to enter Godʼs kingdom.
1521. He presented the image of the child Jesus, the Sto. Niño, as a 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 Roman Catholic Church. At the moment of receiving the holy image, it was said
that Queen Juana danced with joy bearing this image of the child Jesus. With the other natives
following her example, this moment was regarded as the first Sinulog.
It is interesting to note that while some festivals find their origin from this incident in Cebu, the
Ati-atihan was the original street celebration centuries before the Sinulog and Dinagyang
festivals. It was first celebrated as a pagan festival in honor of anitos or pagan gods of the
native people before the Spanish arrived, commemorating the arrival of the Bornean datus.
There are critics who have lambasted these festivals for their show business and tourism related commercialism and lamented the loss of authentic prayer and worship. It is, however,
undoubtedly a cultural expression and a part of Philippine history. According to National Artist
Nick Joaquin, It is such a symbol of Philippine history because it came with Magellan, became
Arts and Culture a native pagan idol, was reestablished as a Christian icon by Legazpi, and has become so Filipino that native legends annul its European origin by declaring it to have arisen in this land and to have been of this land since time immemorial. During that strange interlude when the Spaniards left after Magellanʼs death, the wondrous miracle happened: we accepted the Santo Niño as part of our land, part of our culture, part of our history. During those 44 years when the Cross had vanished from our land, the Santo Niño kept us faithful to him. The Santo Niño, Joaquin further stresses, connected, linked and joined together our pagan and Christian culture;
he belonging to both.
Today, the image of the Santo Niño can be seen almost anywhere, and even in the most
unlikely places. But the most important place for one to express his/her devotion to the Child
Jesus is no less in the heart.
* This article was written for January 2012 issue of Pinoy Living Today.