Cebu City’s Sinulog Festival

Cebu City is home to the annual Sinulog Festival. This is held every third Sunday of January; it is held in honor of the Santo Nino (Child Jesus). This festival attracts tourists and pilgrims from other parts of the Philippines and all over the world.


The focal point of the Sinulog Festival is the ritual dance performed. Sinulog is derived from Cebuano which means “movement of the current.” This describes the dance which is characterized by the forward-backward movement – two steps forward, one step backward. This dance is not merely for entertainment but part of the ritual worship of the Santo Nino. Even the vendors at Cebu City’s Basilica Minore de Santo Nino perform it while peddling their wares to churchgoers.


The origins of Sinulog date back to the time Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition arrived in the Philippines. When he landed in Cebu (then known as Sugbu), he met Raja Humabon and his wife Hara Humanay who were baptized as Catholics and they were presented with an image of the Santo Nino as a gift. It was believed that Humanay, later baptized as Juana, danced with joy while carrying the image. She was thus considered the originator of the Sinulog dance.

When Miguel Lopez de Legazpi arrived years later, they discovered the image in a village. The Augustinian friars who accompanied Legazpi reported that the image has performed many miracles and as such, built a church there which would become the Basilica Minore de Santo Nino in Cebu City where the image is enshrined and kept to this day.

Although the practice has been going on for centuries, it was only in 1980 that the Cebu City Government officially launched the Sinulog Festival. It started out as a cultural festival but when the first festival was successful, it was decided that subsequent ones will be held regularly.

The Cebu City Historical Committee is given the responsibility of organizing the event year. Soon after, the Sinulog was no longer confined to Cebu City but now covers the entire province though the center of the celebration remains in the capital.

What Can You Expect?

As mentioned earlier, the nature of celebrating Sinulog has been religious as it commemorates the receiving of the Santo Nino where the dance is the focal point.

sinulog dance
One of the main highlights of the Sinulog Festival is the dance. Every year, groups try to surpass each other in performance. C: Aileen Adalid

But there is more to Sinulog than just the dance and the usual pilgrimage. There is the procession. One of the streets, the other fluvial. Then there is the secular portion of the festival. There is a grand street parade where elaborate floats are paraded, some of them sport themes from popular culture. The Sinulog dance was also evolved. The current generation of performers would incorporate modern moves. As a compromise, the Sinulog Dance Contest is divided into three categories – the Sinulog (traditional), Free Interpretation and Street Dance. The winners of each category will receive 1 Million Pesos as the Grand Prize.

There are also street parties held in most neighborhoods. You can expect a lot of merrymaking – having their private feasts, drinking and singing with many a videoke machine being employed.

That’s Sinulog for you. One of the things that makes Cebu a place worth visiting.


Featured Image Source: Aileen Adalid

Aaron Ronquillo

Quizzer, Practical Shooter, Martial Artist, Movie Buff, Avid Reader, Amateur Foodie and Photographer, Cat Lover; Someone with a wanderlust; got a keen eye for detail, trivia; enthusiastic but cautious; patient, calculating