This weekend we have experienced Sinulog, and although I have generally avoided writing purely descriptive blog posts explaining things we have done, Sinulog probably merits just that, as it is something it is probably impossible to experience, without making a trip to the Philippines for the third Sunday in January.
Sinulog, or the festival of the Santo Nino, is Cebu's celebration of the arrival of Christianity in the Philippines; the image of the Santo Nino being a gift from Magellan to the queen of Cebu on her baptism in 1521. Magellan didn't last long, being killed by Lapu Lapu on nearby Mactan island, and the image was lost for a time but when the Spanish came back and stayed in the 1540s, the image was refound, and is still housed in a basilica in the city. It is a history, as the "cradle of Christianity in East Asia" of which Cebu is proud, notwithstanding the contradiction inherent in the arrival of their faith with an occupying force.
So, every January, they celebrate - and they do so in style! The Cebuanos certainly know how to throw a party. On Saturday we were up at 3 in order to join the fluvial procession, with hundreds of boats accompanying the Santo Nino back to the city from Mactan Island where he has spent the night before in the Shrine of Our Lady ("at his mum's house"!) We set off from Pasil before dawn and by about nine were back and, with thousands of others were dancing through the streets, with Santo Nino statues held aloft.
We had time for a short rest and some lunch before heading into the city for the main religious procession, a 6.8 kilometre route around the city, which took us about four hours. We had been warned in advance that if we joined the procession there would be little chance of joining the mass with which it ends - and we could see people were already queuing to get a space in the basilica before we had even begun the procession. I don't suppose anyone really knows, but the estimate was that about 2 million people joined the procession (and nearly as many Santo Ninos!)
On Sunday there were even more people out on the streets for the cultural parade, but apart from a short walk to get there (even just that was an experience in itself!), we watched it in the stadium: and it was quite a show! The portable scenery and costumes were spectacular and the choreography was outstanding: and Santo Nino appeared every time to the loudest cheers. We watched all 135 dance presentations and left after the fireworks finale at 9pm.
I hope my words, and the photos below, do some kind of justice to our experiences this weekend!
After two very full days, there are plenty of thoughts and reflections buzzing round my head, but they aren't in order yet, so that will be for another blog post perhaps!