Sunday, January 17, 2021

The Feast of Santo Niño

Our exploration of the continued remembrance of Christmastide as a forty-day feast, in some form or another, shall continue, and in ways that, in turn, continue to surprise many of us.

Most practicing Catholics in North America (we can only hope) are familiar with the image of the "Infant of Prague." While the devotion to the Child Jesus originated in Spain in the 16th century, it soon made its way to the Czech region of Bohemia, the historic capital city of which is Prague, hence the popular reference. But in much of the Spanish world, including the Philippines, he is known as "Santo Niño" and the feast commemorating the Christ Child (as he is referred to from infancy to the age of twelve) is celebrated on the third Sunday of January.

Rehearsal in Qatar, 2013.

All throughout South America and other parts of the Hispanic world, celebrations that are akin to our own Mardi Gras ("Fat Tuesday," the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent) take place. Among the greatest are the various celebrations of Santo Niño throughout the Philippihes, not only in the capital city of Manila, but especially in Cebu, the major city of the central region of Visayas, and the epicenter of the national celebration.

Sinulog Dance 2012 by Tribu Sugbu Dancers, Rockville MD, 2012.




In 1521, Ferdinand Magellan came to Cebú and gave the image as a present to Humamay, chief consort of the local monarch, Raja Humabon, when she, together with her husband and a number of his subjects, were baptized into the Catholic faith. Tradition holds that Humamay -- who received the Christian name Juana after Joan of Castile -- danced for joy upon receiving the Santo Niño, providing a legendary origin for the fervent religious dancing during the Sinulog held in honor of the Christ Child. (from Wikipedia)

Sinulog in Singapore 2017 Rehearsals, choreographed by Edynne Baclay.

While remembered primarily as a religious holiday, the celebration, or Sinulog, is known for its street festivals, as the young woman who is crowned queen of the festival leads the parade, dancing and carrying the image of the Christ Child in honor of him. The name "sinulog" comes from the Cebuano (Visayan) word "sulog," which translates roughly as "water current movement," a reference to the backward/forward movement of the Sinulog dance in which festival goers participate. The dance itself, performed as a group, is relatively simple, but various cities and dance troupes will invariably cultivate elaborately choreographed versions of the same. As they do, they sing the popular folk song "Viva Pit Seynor" which translates as "Long Live the Lord" (or more popularly as "Long Live the Christ Child"). The dancers will usually carry images of the Holy Child, holding them over their heads as they move together, praising the young Christ Jesus in song.


Jesus teach me how to pray
Suffer not my thought to stray
Send destruction far away
Sweet Holy Child

Let me not be rude or wild
Make me humble meek and mild
Pure as angels undefiled
Sweet Holy Child

When I work or when I pray
Be thou with me through the day
Teach me what to do and say
Sweet Holy Child

Make me love thy mother's blest
Safe beneath they care to rest
As a bird within its nest
Sweet Holy Child.

The climax of the event takes place at the Pilgrim Center of the Minor Basilica Minore del Santo Niõ de Cebu, as in these two clips from the previous year (from the cheap seats, and near the sanctuary). Just when you thought Catholics didn't know how to party, you learn that they do in the "Land of the Morning."

More information about the main event can be found at the Sinulog website for the annual celebration in Cebu.