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Religious Festivals to Discover in Cebu City

Sinulog Festival

Festive and lively. That’s one of the main takeaways for tourists whenever they come to the province of Cebu. Whether you are here on business, on an adventure, or if you’re simply visiting the island with your beloved, you will want Cebu City to be your port of entry when discovering the culture of the region.

The Philippines, in general, is deeply religious. Around 86% of the entire nation identifies as Roman Catholics, with the remaining denominations of Christianity, Islam, and non-religious comprising the remaining 14%.

Most religious festivals in the Philippines are associated with Roman Catholicism. During the Spanish colonial period, the authorities associated each city, town, or barrio with a patron saint and would hold a fiesta (feast) with peryas (celebration centers) every year in commemoration of the saint.

Since then, Filipinos have always made it a tradition to have a yearly celebration packed with music, food, parade, and dance from small-scale celebrations in the local barangays (smallest political level) to city-wide fiestas that attract neighboring regions to come and celebrate.

Some of these celebrations might not even be associated with religion. Take for example the Lingayen Gulf Landing Anniversary, which celebrates the landing of General MacArthur in 1945. Some festivals are associated with the trade industry of a town or celebrate their famed delicacy.

One could even think that the way we have made this religious Spanish import of reverence and celebration is a part of what it means to be Filipino. As a start, let’s look at a few of the major festivals around your initial visit to Cebu.

Sinulog street dancing

Sinulog (Cebu City, Cebu)

Sinulog comes from the vernacular word ‘sulog’ which means “moving like the water current.” This is why the dance consists of two steps forward and one step back.

The history behind this festival starts with the coming of Ferdinand Magellan who gifted Queen Juana, the main consort of Rajah Humabon with a bust of Christ, the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and an image of the Santo Niño on April 14, 1521. Upon holding the Santo Niño, Queen Juana danced with joy marking it as the first Sinulog dance in history.

Another account with the steps of Sinulog is from Baladhay, an advisor of Humabon. When he fell ill, he was placed in a room where the Sto. Niño was located. After a few days, he recovered and was found shouting and dancing. He claimed that this was caused by baby Jesus. His dance movements looked like a sulog.

Since then, there have been pilgrimages to Cebu from the surrounding regions every year to pay homage to the Santo Niño in the Visayas region. This practice was given government support by Cebu City in 1980. Since then, the Sinulog festival has become one of the biggest and most popular events in the Philippines and around the world.

Every year on the 3rd Sunday of January millions of people from all over the world come to Cebu City just to witness and partake in the dances, parades, and festivities. The faithful chant Viva Pit Señor to commemorate this historical event and the child, Jesus, to this day for over 500 years.

Sinulog festival

Kadaugan sa Mactan Festival (Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu)

A bridge away from Cebu City is Mactan Island. This festival meaning “The Victory at Mactan” is associated with Ferdinand Magellan’s coming and defeat at the hands of the local chieftain Lapu-Lapu on April 27, 1521. Like the Sinulog festival, the government since 1981, has held a re-enactment of the battle every year between April 22 to 27.

Starting from April 22 and up to the main event on the 27th, the city is host to art exhibits, job fairs, sports competitions, concerts, food festivals, and street parties.

The most vibrant of these street parties is called the Rampada sa Kalsada, which translates as ‘rampage on the streets." It doesn’t mean an actual violent rampage but noisy streets that host food stalls, loud music from the discos, and various activities.

Every April 27 local actors and actresses volunteer to reenact the Battle of Mactan. They play the roles of Lapu-Lapu, Reyna Bulakna, Ferdinand Magellan, and the other actors during the historical event. The play starts with the planting of Magellan’s Cross and ends at the shrine.

Sugat Kabanhawan sa Minglanilla (Minglanilla, Cebu)

Welcoming the Resurrection at Minglanilla

Going along the National Highway from Cebu City and past the City of Talisay is the Municipality of Minglanilla. Minglanilla’s most known festival is the Sugat Kabanhawan sa Minglanilla in English. It's known as “Welcoming the Resurrection at Minglanilla.”

Since 1889 by the Spanish authorities, it begins at the end of the Holy Week which coincides with the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday to which the festival is dedicated. There are hundreds of thousands of viewers - one of them reaching 100,000 visitors.

It starts at 3:00 am on the grounds of Minglanilla Central School. Participants from all over Minglanilla come to perform at the Sugat Festival. You will find Easter masses, foot processions, street parades, and beauty pageants here.

It starts with a reenactment of the Annunciation of Mary. Throughout the play, actors hang from zip lines during some of the dance choreography and battle scenes. This is apart from all of the props and contraptions utilized during the play.

One of the most pivotal scenes in the play is the battle between Michael the Archangel and Lucifer. Through the play children also participate and are suspended on the ziplines. The play ends with the Risen Christ on a high platform.

After the play and throughout the rest of the morning, some festivals continue, and street parades go along the National Highway.

Pasigarbo sa Sugbo (Cebu City, Cebu)

the showcase or pride of Cebu

In English, this translates as “the showcase or pride of Cebu.” This festival is held in Cebu around the province’s founding anniversary every August. It showcases all of the fiestas in the province through street parades and competitions held between the contingents.

In the Pasigarbo sa Sugbo celebration, you can observe a microcosm of all of the different fiestas in the province. You have Talisay City’s Halad Inasal Festival, Carcar City's Kabkaban Festival, and Argao’s La Torta Festival, among every other city and municipalities' unique festivities happening in the same place.

This is one of the best festival celebrations for tourists. It allows visitors to encounter the many ways Cebuanos celebrate their identity and at the same time, to showcase what the province has to offer to the world.

So What are You Waiting for?

There are a lot of cultures to discover around the Queen City of the South and beyond. If ever you come and visit, apart from the nature and parks that are in the province, there is a grand array of religious celebrations in this part of the Philippines.

So why hesitate? Set up your itinerary, book a flight, and discover a world of adventure.

This story was originally published on Medium: Religious Festivals To Discover In Cebu City

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