Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: The Sinulog Festival and Dance

Devotees dancing to Sinulog while carrying their Santo Niño images.

Devotees dancing to Sinulog while carrying their Santo Niño images.

By Zeenat Kassam Mitha –

The Filipino community celebrates, with its rich and colorful traditions, The Sinulog Festival this month on the third Sunday of January. Sinulog is a dance ritual in honor of the miraculous image of the Santo Niño (image of the Child Jesus). The customary dance move includes going two steps forward and one step backward to the sound of the drums while carrying a statue of Santo Niño. The devotees chant “Pit Señor! Pit Señor!” which means “Hail the Lord!” A cluster of dancing enthusiasts seem to vibrate the earth with their synchronized movement, all symbolic to their faith. Approximately 1,200 people attend the festival, dancing as part of prayer and honor.

Fort Bend is considered one of the most diverse counties in the nation, and it is home to a vibrant Filipino community. Faith is a big part of the community’s life and is expressed through many cultural and religious events. “Our faith, culture and traditions are deeply rooted,” said Margie Calo, a Sugar Land resident and president of Cofradia Del Santo Niño De Cebu of Galveston-Houston Archdiocese.

Understanding the meaning behind the chant deepens one’s appreciation of the belief and history. This ritual began in the Philippine Islands where Portuguese Navigator Ferdinand Magellan of Spain landed, and historians say he introduced Christianity to the Philippines in 1521. He gave the Santo Niño as a baptismal gift to the queen. At that time, not only the rulers were baptized but also approximately 800 of their subjects. However, shortly after the conversion, Magellan died conquering a rival tribe on the neighboring island of Mactan. In the fighting that took place, Magellan was hit by a poisoned arrow.

Margie and Romy Calo in traditional Philippine costume called “Barong.”

Margie and Romy Calo in traditional Philippine costume called “Barong.”

In April of 1565, 44 years later, another Spaniard, Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, arrived in Cebu, Philippines. He found the natives hostile, fearing revenge for Magellan’s death. The village caught fire in the conflict. The next day, the Spanish mariner Juan Camus found the image of the Santo Niño in a pine box amidst the ruins of a burnt house. The image, carved from wood and coated with paint, stood 30 centimeters tall and wore a loose velvet garment, a gilded neck chain and a red woolen hood. Considering this statue was saved from the fire, the natives danced the Sinulog as a sign of respect and admiration to the Santo Niño.

Today in Fort Bend, Filipino community devotees wear red or the traditional Philippine dress, called “Barong,” bring their Santo Niño statues and dance to keep the tradition alive. One will be amazed to see the various sizes and aged statues, as some are centuries old. The little boys are dressed in red capes and are adorned with gold beads as an imitation of the Santo Niño dressed in majesty. “We take this opportunity to communicate to our children our Filipino culture and faith,” said Fort Bend resident Grace Belleza. “We embrace and are proud to practice what we believe.”

After the prayers, there is a reception where traditional Filipino food is served, while various cultural dances are being performed.

“On Saturday, January 23rd, we mark the 29th year of celebrating the Feast in Honor of Señor Santo Niño and presented by the Cofradia Del Santo Niño De Cebu of Galveston-Houston Archdiocese,” said Calo. “We invite everybody to join us, and the main celebrant is Most Reverend George Sheltz.”

This festival is held at St. Theresa Catholic Church at 705 St. Theresa Boulevard in Sugar Land. The rosary prayers begin at 9:15 am followed by the procession of the images of Santo Niño, and the celebration of the Holy Eucharist is at 11 am. The reception and entertainment will follow.

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