By Mat Santos
The feast of the Sto. Niño is celebrated annually in various parts of the Philippines, including Bacolod, Bustos, Cebu, Kalibo, Malolos, Panay, Tacloban, and Tondo, which have images of the Holy Child that date to the 16th century and have their own feasts. Many of them, however, kick off activities to mark the feast usually in the early days of January and culminate on the Holy Child’s feast day on January 21. The most popular among these celebrations are the Fiesta Señor and Sinulog Festival in Cebu, and the Sto Niño in Tondo, Manila.
Now on its 453rd year, the Fiesta Señor of the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño de Cebu (commonly known as the Santo Niño Basilica), has been the most anticipated festival in the country and its annual celebration is a highlight of Cebu City. The fiesta which also features the Sinulog Festival, the trademark Cebuano celebration honoring the Holy Child, gathers thousands of people including visitors from other countries. The 2018 Fiesta Señor had its opening salvo on June 11 with a “Walk with Jesus” while the Sinulog Festival kicked off the following day with a launching parade that started at the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño de Cebu and ended at the Cebu City Sports Complex. This year, the festival will have no fireworks display. The money intended for the fireworks display will be donated for the rehabilitation of Marawi, the victims of recent storms, and the renovation of a church in Villaba, Leyte.
Meanwhile, the feast of the Sto. Niño de Tondo Church, which is housed in the Tondo Church that was established by the Augustinians in the late 1500s, is a well-participated occasion, perhaps not only because Tondo is the most populous district in Manila, but also due to the many inspiring stories and anecdotes connected with the image of the Holy Child. In the early days, because of Tondo’s terrain that consisted of waterways and tributaries, the residents of Tondo celebrated the feast with a grand fluvial procession. The fiesta celebration usually ranges from the hanging of banderitas throughout the district, installing elaborately decorated archways and streamers bearing the popular chant “Viva El Sto. Niño!” and Eucharistic celebrations beginning on the eve of the fiesta. The processions on the day of the fiesta, usually one in the morning and the other before sundown, pass through the main thoroughfares, occasionally stop for a display of fireworks, and the release of doves. The Sto. Niño Fiesta of Tondo culminates in the Lakbayaw Street Dance Festival, a competition among Ati-Atihan groups, schools, community, and religious organizations.
Filipinos’ devotion to the Sto. Niño can perhaps be explained by the many answered prayers lifted to the Holy Child, not to mention their natural love for children. This devotion is made manifest by the different costumes that they don their Sto. Niño, that of: a fireman, farmer, a basketball player, and a policeman, among others. Regardless of how we dress up our Sto. Niño images, what is important is emulating his outstanding trait of being childlike (not childish) in our faith in God and in living the Gospel values.
Viva, El Señor Sto. Niño!