The Holy Child Jesus or Santo Niño is one of the oldest religious images in the Philippines. It is also an image honored by many Filipinos. His statue is usually displayed on an altar reserved for Him in a Catholic home. 

Santo Niño de Cebu

Cebu has the honor of having the famous Santo Niño statue. This was the first image brought by the Spaniards to the Philippines. On 14 April 1521, the first baptism took place. Rajah Humabon was baptized as Carlos, named after the Spanish King Carlos. His wife, Hara Humamay was given the name Juana, named after Joanna of Castille.

The Santo Niño was brought by Ferdinand Magellan and presented to Queen Juana of Cebu in 1521. The early Filipinos venerated the statue after Magellan’s death. It would later be found by a soldier of the Legazpi expedition in a hut in 1565.

Since then, the image has been under the care of the Augustinians and housed in the Cebu Cathedral, later to be elevated to the rank of “Basilica Minore del Santo Niño.” The feast of the image is celebrated with a ritual called the Sinulog.

Sinulog or Santo Niño Festival is an annual religious and cultural festival in Cebu. It is held every third Sunday of January.
(Wynn Loner U. Uy / CC BY-SA 4.0 / Wikimedia Commons)

Sinulog Festival

The Cebu sinulog is a dance ritual. It was said to have begun as a pagan rite and is now a form of homage to the Santo Niño. The sinulog is danced (two steps forward, one step back) to the rhythm of drums. The word “sulog” referred to the movement of the Pahina River current which the dance steps imitated.

Initially, only a few people danced the sinulog, considered a special religious rite practiced by the Holy Child’s devotees and was barely noticed by the Cebuanos. On special occasions, school children participated, dressed in colorful costumes of the moro-moro drama. To make it different from the Aklan Ati-Atihan, the parade was not just made into a big party. It was made into a large storybook pageant that told the tale of the sinulog dance as part of Cebu’s historical and cultural pageant.

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