Hala bira! Puera pasma!

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Saturday, January 25, 2014

THEY come in different sizes – some small as one and a half-inch, others as robust, plump and tall up to three to four feet. They are garbed differently – the popular ones are in red and green. Others in black and yellow, some are bedecked with beads and tinsels. Others are garbed in plain collarless “camisa- chino” shirt and loose red pants. Some have customized attire like the one I saw which was dressed as a cop!

Owner-believers sometimes put a small basket on one of the icon’s small hands, and fill this with coins. Other shrewd business owners tuck some paper bills on the statue’s foothold and put them on the entrance of their stalls for luck and protection. But with all their differences, the icon of the Sto. Niño with his curly hair, gentle eyes, and bidding hands elicit beliefs, adoration, love, and petitions from believers.

This January, festivals celebrating the coming of the Sto. Niño or the Child Jesus in the Philippines are held. In various names, and different places, the festivities celebrate the devotees' simple faith on the Child Jesus' endearing ways and the believers’ adoration and petitions made in his name. Sinulog in both Cebu and Kabankalan, Dinagyang in Iloilo, Ati-atihan in Aklan, and Dinagsa in Cadiz, are just but some of the world-famous cultural and religious festivals celebrated to honor the Sto. Niño.


Historical records tell us that on April 7, 1521, the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan arrived and planted the cross on the shores of Cebu, claiming the island as a territory of Spain. As a token of goodwill, Magellan presented an image of the Child Jesus, the Santo Niño, as baptismal gift to Hara Amihan, later baptized as Queen Juana, wife of the local leader, Rajah Humabon. At the moment of receiving the idol, chronicles claim that Queen Juana danced with joy bearing the image of the child Jesus, with the other natives following the lady chieftain’s example. Thus begins, according to historians, the moment of the first Sinulog.

But why do Filipinos have this great reverence for the Sto. Niño? After Magellan died on April 27, 1521, pages in history tell us that the Spanish explorer Miguel López de Legazpi arrived in Cebu on April 28, 1565 and occupied and razed the villages ruled by Rajah Tupas. In one of the huts of the burning village, one of López de Legazpi's soldiers Juan Camus found a wooden box containing the statue of the Santo Niño. It was recorded that the natives had shown much worship to the icon, and had rejected their “anitos”, “diwatas”, and other animistic beliefs.

This religious devotion to the Sto. Niño then just spread all throughout the whole country with wild, loud chant of "Viva Pit Señor!", “Viva El Señor Sto. Niño!”, “Viva kay Sto. Niño!” or “hala bira, puera pasma!” From the second Sunday after the Epiphany to the last Sunday of the month, Aklan, Cebu and Iloilo and even some towns, cities or even puroks and barangays, celebrate the Santo Niño festival.

Last week, Ati-atihan Festival was celebrated in Kalibo, Aklan. Merrymakers did their dance just like how the "Atis" do. “Sadsad” or doing the Ati-atihan festival steps are what the members of the participating tribes, the locals, and the visitors do to really enjoy the festivities. Along the main streets of the capital, the procession of the Sto. Niño icons either carried by their owners or mounted on adorned carts pushed or pulled by believers, plus the merry makers make Ati-atihan maintain its unique flavor as one cultural and religious festivals in the country.

The pounding of the bass drums, the contagious pulsating beats, the tinkling of the metal costume accessories and band instruments, the festive rhythm, the vivacious participants, and the by-standers smearing your arms and face with black paint or oiled soot are but some of the many ways Leila Feliprada and Linda Moises enjoyed in their Aklan Ati-atihan escapade last week. But despite all the revelry, the icon of the Sto. Niño, gently clutched and paraded by believers, made an imprint in their hearts and minds with an outmost dependence and love for the Little Child Jesus.

Where else can we go? The nearby Cadiz will have its Dinagsa this weekend. Across the strait, Iloilo will also have its Dinagyang. Wherever you decide, high up there in your altar, clad in either green or red cloak is the icon of the Child Jesus who constantly reminds us of his great love for us.

What child is he, then? Gentle, handsome, kind, and more. And whatever the color or attire or size his icon may be, he really has endeared himself to us. The stories on how the Santo Niño had touched our lives may fill up another article or a book. Yet, one thing is sure, he is here with us! And the festivals celebrated in his honor attest to that.

Viva Pit Senor Sto. Nino ! Hala bira, puera pasma!

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on January 25, 2014.


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