The Catholic Church sets the Holy Child as “an example of humility and as a celebration of the Incarnation of Christ.” The Holy See has approved special liturgical texts for the Feast of the Child Jesus.
The image of the Holy Child was brought to the Philippines by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan on April 14, 1521, as a gift to Queen Juana of Cebu who was reportedly moved to tears after she saw the 15-inch tall wooden statue of the Sto. Niño. She allowed herself to be baptized as a Christian, along with her husband Rajah Humabon and more than 800 natives.
After Magellan was killed by Lapu-Lapu in the Battle of Mactan, not much was heard about the image, except that the Cebuanos worshipped the Santo Niño as a rain god.
Forty years later, in 1565, when Spanish “conquistador” (conqueror) Miguel Lopez de Legazpi arrived in Cebu, a Spanish soldier, Juan Camus, found the image inside the house of a native. His house was razed by fire that miraculously spared the holy image.
The image now known as Sto. Niño de Cebu is considered the oldest Christian relic in the country. It is enshrined and venerated at the oldest church in the country, the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño in Cebu City.
Legazpi named Cebu as the City of the Most Holy Name of Jesus.
Eucharistic celebrations, streetdancing festivals, colorful parades, fluvial processions, and other festive commemorative rites will be held in many parts of the Philippines today in celebration of the Feast of the Sto. Niño, traditionally observed every third Sunday of January, the month of the Holy Child.
In Metro Manila, crowds of devotees traditionally attend the hourly masses – held for 26 hours – at the Sto. Niño de Tondo Parish in Tondo, Manila, starting at 10 o’clock Saturday night until 11 p.m. Sunday.
With the theme, “Sto. Niño, Maningning na Tala sa Landas ng Paring Pilipino,” solemn processions bearing the image of the Child Jesus, followed by devotees carrying Sto. Niño images will be held at 4:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. Baptismal rites will also be held by the hour from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m.
Festivities in Tondo started as early as Jan. 6 with the opening of the “Lakbayaw” Festival when the image began its “visit” to various barangays in Tondo.
In Pandacan, Manila, hourly masses will be held at the Sto. Niño Parish from 5 a.m. to 12 p.m. and at 3:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m., 6 p.m., 7 p.m., and 8 p.m. A procession will be held at 6 p.m.
In Pasig City, the Bambino Festival in honor of the Child Jesus will be celebrated.
In Cebu City, at least two million people from all walks of life are expected to witness Sunday’s 30th Grand Sinulog Mardi Gras, a festival of all festivals that celebrates the Feast of the Sto. Niño de Cebu, which will kick off with streets dancing passing through the major streets of the city.
On Saturday, church and police officials said more than two million devotees attended the fluvial procession and the solemn street procession that lasted for more than six hours and spanned six kilometers around the city despite the continuous drizzle.
The fluvial procession features a galleon that carried the image of the Sto. Niño de Cebu and the Our Lady of Guadalupe from the St. Joseph Parish in Mandaue City to the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño in Cebu City via the Mactan Channel.
Many Cebuanos do not consider the Christmas season over until the Feast of the Santo Niño. Other festivities in honor of the Holy Child include Kalibo, Aklan’s “Ati-Atihan” Festival; “Romblon’s, “Biniray” Festival; Cagayan de Oro City’s, “Pachada Senor;” Butuan City’s, “Kahimunan” Festival; Antique’s “Binirayan” and “Handugan” Festivals; Iloilo City’s, “Dinagyang” Festival; and Pagadian City, Zamboanga del Sur’s, “Zambulawan” Festival.
Commemorative rites will also be held in Malolos, Bulacan; Laoag City, Ilocos Norte; Binalonan, Pangasinan, and in other parts of the country where every Filipino home keeps an image of the Sto. Niño in their altars.