Cebu City

Cebu’s Sinulog Festival and Fiesta Señor: What distinguishes them?

Wenilyn Sabalo

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Cebu’s Sinulog Festival and Fiesta Señor: What distinguishes them?

PROCESSION IMAGE. A Santo Nino image in Cebu, used for the Solemn Foot Procession during the Fiesta Señor.

Wenilyn Sabalo/Rappler

There may be confusion between the Sinulog Festival and Fiesta Señor, but a fact can be agreed on. Without the Santo Niño, neither of these two festivities would be possible.

CEBU, Philippines – Cebuanos and visitors alike look forward to the Sinulog Festival, hailed as the “grandest in the country,” held every January. Yet, amid the excitement, confusion persists, especially for those experiencing the celebration for the first time.

Is the Sinulog just another name for the Fiesta Señor?

“It is true that most people do not know the difference or that separate names are being used. Devotees or even most of the people are more familiar with (the) Sinulog Festival than the Fiesta Señor,” said Fr. Genesis Labana, director of the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño (BMSN) Media Center.

WALK WITH JESUS. Catholic devotees join the ‘Walk with Jesus’ or the penitential foot procession from Fuente Osmeña to the Basilica Minore del Sto Niño in Cebu on January 11, 2024.

Labana pointed out that the only obvious difference between the two is the group of organizers. The Sinulog Festival is spearheaded by the Sinulog Foundation Incorporated, while the Fiesta Señor is led by the Augustinian priests.

The Sinulog refers to the cultural aspect of the devotion to the Holy Child, while the Fiesta Señor pertains to the religious activities of the BMSN led by the Augustinians.

The Sinulog 

The Sinulog Festival covers various competitions in honor of the Holy Child. 

These range from the grand parade and the ritual showdown participated by contingents nationwide.

It also features events, namely the Sinulog sa Dakbayan and the Sinulog sa Lalawigan, scheduled this weekend, January 13 and 14, respectively, at the Cebu City Sports Center, before the Sinulog Grand Parade and Ritual Showdown at the South Road Properties.

The Sinulog is considered as a ritual dance-prayer performed to pay homage to the miraculous image of Señor Santo Niño.

An account by the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Incorporated, which was also published in SunStar on January 27, 2018, entitled “Sinug to Sinulog: 3 versions of a dance,” quoted choreographer Ceasar Nimor explaining the early practice of the dance prayer.

He said that even “before the arrival of Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan in Sugbo (now Cebu island) on April 7, 1521, the ‘sinug’ was already danced by the natives as a supplication to deities and nature spirits called diwata.’”

There are also three versions of the dance, including the one that originated in Barangay Mabolo. 

A unique characteristic of this version is the altar of Santo Niño that is positioned in front of the performers symbolizing the act of offering to a higher being. 

Meanwhile, the second version is more popular among candle vendors at the church. 

“This ‘votive sinug’ involves minimal footwork but {is) 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 is the one popular today, which borrows the kinampilan step of the combative version and the double close step of the prayer dance. 

It also has a female lead dancer carrying the holy image.

The Fiesta Señor

The Fiesta Señor, whose essence dates back from the arrival of the image of the Santo Niño in 1521, refers to the 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 anticipated religious activities of the Fiesta Señor are the foot processions, seaborne procession, reenactment of the first baptism and first wedding, and the Hubo mass.

The Hubo, which means undress, features the stripping off and the changing of the garment of the replica of the Holy Child from a grandiose one to a simpler one, marking the end of the celebration of the Fiesta Señor in the BMSN.

The opening salvo for the Fiesta Señor 2024 started on Thursday, January 11, after the holding of a Penitential Walk with Jesus (one of the foot processions). 

During the opening salvo, the rector of the BMSN installed the Hermano and Hermana Mayorees, whose primary role was to help the Augustinian priests spread their devotion to the Holy Child.

Fr. John Ion Miranda, head of the secretariat for safety, security, peace, and order for the Fiesta Señor 2024, said the Sandiego couple, Val and Ofelia, have been chosen by the Augustinians to be this year’s Hermano and Hermana Mayorees.

“The San Diegos are very well known not only for the Sinulog dance but for their devotion to Santo Niño,” Miranda said.

Meanwhile, devotees also look forward to joining and witnessing the annual seaborne procession of the images of Santo Niño and the Our Lady of Guadalupe. 

The seaborne procession held on the visperas which follows a route encompassing the waters off the coasts of Lapu-Lapu, Mandaue, and Cebu cities, 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 seaborne procession is the LCT Martin 8 of Maayo Shipping Incorporated.

The celebration of the fiesta at the BMSN is extended to Friday, January 12, right after the feast day with the traditional Hubo mass as a culminating activity for the celebration in the BMSN.

There may be confusion between the Sinulog Festival and Fiesta  Señor, but a fact can be agreed on. Without the Santo Niño, neither of these two festivities would be possible. –

Wenilyn Sabalo is an Aries Rufo Journalism fellow.

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