The third Sunday of January is the Feast of Sto. Niño, which is typically marked by various celebrations, parades, dances, and events all over the country. But like the Traslacion last week, all observances to honor Sto. Niño this 2022 will be quieter and subtler, far from the usual pomp and pageantry.
In Manila, for example, which has now logged a high of 4,000-plus active COVID-19 cases, the city government has prohibited all physical activities related to the celebration of the Sto. Niño Fiesta in Tondo and Pandacan. With this, all kinds of religious processions, street parades, and other public gatherings are not allowed today. Instead, Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso enjoined all devotees to catch the online masses of the Archdiocesan Shrine of Sto. Niño de Tondo and the Sto. Niño Parish in Pandacan.
Even with the pandemic, the fervor of the Filipino devotees to the Sto. Niño can be felt all days of the year. It is impossible to miss the Sto. Nino in a Filipino household. Garbed in colorful outfits, the Sto. Niño is given prominence at the altar and is venerated to shower blessings to the family and to protect the young ones.
The Sto. Niño or the Holy Child Jesus is also revered in other countries such as those in Latin America, but no one could match our devotion. Historical accounts showed that Ferdinand Magellan arrived on the shores of Cebu on March 16, 1521. Soon, Magellan presented the image of the Child Jesus to Queen Juana, the wife of Rajah Humabon as a baptismal gift, when she, together with other rulers and natives, converted to the Catholic faith.
Fast forward a few more decades, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi conquered Cebu and after pillaging the villages, they found the original Magellan Santo Niño safe and unscathed from the fires. The friars proclaimed the statue miraculous and built a church on the site, which is now the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño in Cebu.
Like Manila, Cebu will also mark a much muted affair today, poles apart from the pre-pandemic Sinulog Festival, which was usually celebrated with street dancing, competitions, and merriment. There will be masses, novenas, and exhibits but no opportunity to converge to prevent the transmission of the virus. What’s also different this year is there will be a fundraising activity to help those affected by the pandemic and Typhoon Odette.
The situation will also be the same in Kalibo, Aklan today, home of the world-famous Sto. Nino Ati-atihan Festival. Instead of a street parade and in-person dance competitions, the local government of Kalibo is holding a “virtual revelry,” where cash prizes await the winners of various ati-atihan related competitions, which include an online beauty pageant, and search for best costume, most creative jingle, and best photos.
Though these events would be virtual to prevent crowds from converging, the local government nevertheless said that these would still showcase the talent, creativity, and hardwork of the Aklanons, and most important, their passion to honor the Sto. Niño.
This year’s “feasts” may not be what we are accustomed with when we honor the Holy Child. The pandemic may stop us from gathering but it can’t prevent us from honoring the Sto. Niño, as its first arrival on our shores not only marked the start of Christianity in the country, but also conveyed to us the magnanimity of the Catholic faith, the unceasing love of God, and the innocence of a Holy Child’s pure heart.