EACH January, locals and visitors look forward to the Sinulog Festival, hailed as the “grandest in the country.” Yet, amid the excitement, confusion persists and questions abound: Is Sinulog just another name for Fiesta Señor?
“It is true that most people do not know the difference or that there are separate names being used. Devotees or even most of the people are more familiar with (the) Sinulog Festival than the Fiesta Señor,” said Fr. Genesis Labana, OSA, director of the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño (BMSN) Media Center.
Labana pointed out that the only obvious difference between the two are their respective organizers. The Sinulog Festival is spearheaded by the Sinulog Foundation Inc., while the Fiesta Señor is led by Augustinian priests.
Sinulog also refers to the cultural aspect of the devotion to the Holy Child. Fiesta Señor pertains to the religious activities of the BMSN led by the Augustinians.
Sinulog Festival features various competitions done to honor the Holy Child as several contingents from Cebu and across the country participate in the grand parade and the ritual showdown.
Sinulog preview events are also held during the weeklong celebration such as Sinulog sa Dakbayan and Sinulog sa Lalawigan, at the Cebu City Sports Center scheduled on the weekend (Jan. 13 and 14, respectively) before the Sinulog Grand Parade and Ritual Showdown at the South Road Properties on Jan. 21.
The term “Sinulog” is derived from the ritual dance (dance prayer) performed to pay homage to the miraculous image of the Sto. Niño.
An account published by the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc. (Rafi) entitled “Sinug to Sinulog: 3 versions of a dance,” quoted choreographer Ceasar Nimor explaining the early practice of the dance prayer.
“(Even) before the arrival of Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan in Sugbo (now Cebu island) on April 7, 1521, ‘sinug’ was already danced by the natives as supplication to deities and nature spirits called diwata,” said Nimor.
There are three versions of the dance, including one that originated in Barangay Mabolo, Cebu City. In this version, the Sto. Niño altar is placed in front of performers to symbolize the act of offering to a higher being.
The second version is more popular among candle vendors at the church.
“This ‘votive sinug’ involves minimal footwork but punctuated with the graceful waving of the arms and the flicking of the wrist in rotation while holding the candles for lighting later,” Rafi wrote.
The third version which is the most popular today and seen on the street during the celebrations, combines the basic dance with the “kinampilan” step (one step right forward and one step backward while the left foot stays in place). The Sto. Niño image is held by a Festival Queen who then dances with it.
Apart from the Sinulog Festival and more importantly, is the Fiesta Señor celebration that refers to religious activities during the nine-day novena, the visperas, and the feast day held every third Sunday of January, in honor of the Holy Child.
Among the highly anticipated religious activities of the fiesta are the foot processions, seaborne procession, reenactment of the first baptism and first wedding, and the “Hubo” mass.
Fiesta Señor 2024 started with a foot procession on Thursday, Jan. 11, called Penitential Walk with Jesus.
During the opening salvo, the rector of the BMSN installed the Hermano and Hermana Mayores, whose primary role is to help Augustinian priests spread devotion to the Holy Child.
Famous Cebuano couple, Val and Ofelia Sandiego, were chosen by the Augustinians to be this year’s hermano and hermana.
“The Sandiegos are very known not only for the Sinulog dance but for their devotion to Sto. Niño,” said Fr. John Ion Miranda, head of safety, security, and peace and order for the Fiesta Señor 2024.
Devotees also look forward to the annual fluvial procession of the images of Sto. Nino de Cebu and Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The seaborne procession held on Jan. 20, the day before the feast day, follows a route encompassing the waters off the coasts of the cities of Lapu-Lapu, Mandaue and Cebu, and typically involves more than a hundred registered vessels.
This year, the official galleon or vessel that will carry the image of the Holy Child during the procession is the LCT Martin 8 of the Maayo Shipping Inc.
The fiesta celebration officially ends with the “Hubo” mass, held on Friday, Jan. 26, five days after the feast day. Hubo, which means undress, features the changing of the grandiose garment of a replica of the Sto. Niño image to one that is simpler.
The ritual symbolizes the faithful’s desire to change their heart and be humble like a child to truly become disciples of God.