SINCE the Sinulog started 30 years ago, she has not missed any celebrations, even if entire continents and oceans separated her from Cebu the rest of the year.

For balikbayan Sandra Murray-Freiburger, 46, the Sinulog festival is the perfect time to reconnect with the Sto. Niño and thank Him for all the blessings she and her family have received throughout the years.

“I am thankful that He has always provided the right guidance,” said Freiburger, who hails from Badian, Cebu.

She said she has been a devotee of the Child Jesus since she was 11, after her mother had taught her how to pray to the Sto. Niño.

“My mom always brought us here to celebrate the Sinulog,” said Freiburger.

Though now employed by the United States Department of Agriculture, she always makes it a point to return home to Cebu “every year, for the past 21 years.”

She moved to the United States in 1988 but, not wanting to miss a single Sinulog celebration, immediately returned home the following year to visit the Sto. Niño.

“You just have to save up for this,” said Freiburger.

Jennifer McFadden, 21, a college student from the United States, said she conducted a garage sale to raise funds for her trip to Cebu for the Sinulog.

Jonah Mae Sanders, a Filipino-Australian tourist, said experiencing the Sinulog festival is a tradition for her family.

Sanders, whose mother is a Cebuana, said her family usually saves up for most of the year just so they can visit Cebu in January. Sanders, who is planning to get married in February, hopes to pass the tradition on to her children.

The US-based Freiburger said that with her every visit to the Sto. Niño, she thanked Him for the better life she enjoys in the United States, a stable job and a daughter.

Daughter Larine, now 10, has also become a devotee, attributing her victories in school to the Child, Freiburger said.

“I am educating her about the Sto. Niño, by telling her about His stories, all His miracles and His history,” said Freiburger.

Whenever they visit, they bring chocolates and toys, most of whom are now in the Sto. Niño Museum.

Freiburger traveled close to 20 hours with her own Sto. Niño statue from the United States.

Like her, devotees from all over Cebu and other parts of the country visited Cebu over the weekend to take part in the celebrations.

Anecita Ellorde, 62, braved the traffic, rain and cold weather all the way from Bogo City to join pilgrims in the Basilica del Sto. Niño for their yearly devotion to the Child Jesus.

Selling candles along the streets, Ellorde said she offers prayers and petitions to the Sto. Niño. “I just pray more blessings will come our way,” said Ellorde.

She said she has been coming to Cebu City every Sinulog for the past 10 years.

Not every visitor walked away impressed, however.

Some of those who spent the night in the Fuente Osmeña circle complained they saw only a little because so many photographers were allowed to get close to the dancing contingents.

“We came here to see the Sinulog, but we can’t see a thing because there are so many photographers swarming around the dancers. They should stay in the sidelines so the spectators can still see the performances,” said Letecia Micabalo. She said she arrived at the Fuente Osmeña circle at 1 a.m. yesterday.

A visitor from Davao, Jennifer Santos, said she was disappointed because all she saw were the backs of photographers.

“Nindot man siya pero wala lang gyud mi’y makita. Gubot gyud.

Photographers na lang ang pasayawa (It was nice, but I could hardly see a thing. It was chaotic. The photographers might as well dance),” Santos joked.

Micabalo suggested that in the next Sinulog, the photographers should only be fielded in the Cebu City Sports Complex.

A prestigious photo contest attracts hundreds of amateur and professional photographers to the Sinulog every year. (EPB/With JKV & PDF)