Sinulog, Isyagit ug Kusog (Shout It Loud)!
Althea Ricardo gives us the lowdown on Cebu’s most popular festival.
By Althea Lauren Ricardo
August 06, 2011
Cebu's Sinulog Festival and its accompanying fluvial parade, grand mardi gras, and more may not be ‘til the third week of January, but if you're thinking of going, then I suggest you think about it now. "But it isn't until next year," you might say. "That's so far away." Not if you want to hit my hometown's (and maybe even the country's) biggest street party.
I have lots of friends from Manila, other provinces, and even from other countries who often tell me they want to be in Cebu for the next Sinulog Festival. I tell them, "Let me know by September or October at the latest!" Why? This means that if anyone wants to stay with me, I can "book" my house for them against other relatives or friends who might contact me later on. After all, I only have so much space and so many spare beds, and I reckon other relatives and friends you might contact will be faced with the same dilemma if you leave it too late.
Even if you aren't staying with friends who live in the city, this still gives us time to shop around for accommodations that match your budget and standards. The closer it gets to Sinulog week, the higher the prices go.
Not decided if the Sinulog experience is one you definitely want to have? I've come up with a few frequently asked questions to help you out:
1. When is it?
Although the main festival is held annually on the third Sunday of January, celebrations begin as early as just after New Year's. They really amp up, however, in the second weekend of January, and the events escalate all the way until Sinulog day, so you may want to come in on a Thursday or Friday to really get the feel of it.
2. What is it all about?
The Sinulog Festival honors the Christ child, or Sto. Niño, who is the patron saint of the province of Cebu. The festival focuses on dances that help us remember our tribal past (through the distinctive drum beat and steps) and our conversion to Christianity by the Spaniards, beginning when Rajah Humabon and his wife, Hara Amihan, were christened by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521. It is said that Magellan gifted Hara Amihan, rechristened Queen Juana, with an image of the Sto. Niño.
You can learn more about the history behind the Sinulog Festival from the official website [www.silulog.ph].
3. What happens during the festival?
The main event involves a parade that usually lasts from morning until early evening. Contingents of students and professional dancers perform the festival dance in brightly colored costumes, hoping to win the various prizes up for grabs. Also included in the parade and competition are floats, giant puppets (known as higantes), and the festival queens. The latter, dressed and made up to symbolize Queen Juana, are determined through a pageant.
There is also a Sinulog mass held at the Sto. Niño Basilica as well as a fluvial parade featuring brightly decorated boats. Once the parades and formal events end, however, you can start in on the street parties and dance the night away yourself.
Over the years, other competitions have arisen around the festival, including a photography contest, a film fest, a singing competition called Sinulog Idol, and more.
4. What do you want to experience?
There are so many elements to the Sinulog Festival experience that it's impossible to experience it all in just one year. For one thing, the experience you get watching the parade from the grandstand is very different from the one you get at street level.
If you're not a fan of crowds and you like to know who and what you're watching at all times, you should probably go for the grand stand experience. If you want the in-the-moment feel to see the dancers up close and personal, then it's the street parade for you. Be warned, though, that this can get pretty chaotic.
5. Who are you traveling with?
Major thoroughfares are closed to vehicles on the day of the festival. This means that if your hotel isn't on or near the parade route, you could be in for quite a walk. Beyond that, you should know that if you're planning on the street experience, you could end up standing and walking around all day. So if you're traveling with young kids, older ladies and gentlemen, and/or anyone with a disability, you'll need to factor this into your plans. Some hotels are right on the parade route, and you may be able to book rooms that look down over the parade to save yourself the trouble of walking all the way to the grandstand or hoofing it up and down the parade route until you find a good spot.
Think the festival isn't exactly your thing? If you want to visit Cebu but aren't particularly interested in Sinulog, my advice would be to wait until after the festival is over, when hotel and resort rates go back down to something more manageable.
But if you ask veteran Sinulog-goers, they will tell you the same thing: festival going is quite addicting!
Basta Pinas, Laag Na!
Althea Lauren Ricardo is a Palanca Award-winning freelance features writer and a regular columnist for The Freeman, a Cebu daily newspaper. She is working on her MFA in Creative Writing at De La Salle University while working full-time at an English training company.