Four years ago, I was heavily pregnant with twins when I braved the crowd of devotees to attend the nine-day novena Mass at the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño.
Any person, who has been to the basilica for the Fiesta Señor, knows how difficult it is to get a seat during the masses unless you go there very early. But in all of the nine days, I ended up with a space to seat on because people were polite to me and my huge belly.
They were especially nice when my good friend, Jessie Cubijano, told them that I was carrying two babies and that any person who is kind to a woman pregnant with twins will receive double blessings.
I attended the 7 p.m. masses because I worked as a social development worker from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and it would take us an hour to get from our workplace in Barangay Mabolo to the basilica because the traffic situation in 2013 was already a nightmare.
But Jessie and I carried on for nine days with so much love and laughter in our hearts. Except for one night when we had to walk from the basilica to Colon Street near the University of the Visayas. We were often lucky to be able to flag a cab to take us to our respective places in Mandaue City.
We attributed our “luck” to my twin pregnancy and the Santo Niño’s fondness for my twins.
The atmosphere at the basilica is one of faith and solidarity. People are gentle and pleasant. They follow instructions. They share their umbrellas. They smile.
I do not exactly know how to describe it. “Overwhelmed” may be one word to define it. When my fellow devotees raised their hands and swayed them from left to right as we all sang “Batobalani sa Gugma,” it felt like there was a blanket of calmness that enveloped us.
The feeling was very reassuring that it never failed to open the floodgates of tears which many people in the crowd prevent from being opened. I do not like to be seen crying in public but when “Batobalani sa Gugma” is sang, I have no shame to be seen crying in public to express my faith.
There is a smell that I associated with Sinulog since I was a college student at the University of the Philippines Cebu. It was that smell of fun and festivity. The bandiritas provide a more festive atmosphere. The long stretch of Osmeña Boulevard was filled with stalls selling all types of merchandise from T-shirts to wood carvings.
For three years, I missed the Fiesta Señor and the Sinulog Festival. January was a difficult month for me as a Cebuano living abroad. The first year I was away, I cried like a hungry baby. I never thought I would miss Cebu that much. I turned to Facebook as my main source of news and updates from my beloved Cebu.
In 2016, in the middle of cold Montana winter, I watched the Sinulog Grand Parade from my laptop while I was crying without end. Dinner that evening was lumpiang shanghai, bihon, humba and rice — a kaldero of rice. I wore a Sinulog shirt. I had the comforter brought to the living room and spread it out for the three children to lay down.
Everyone was awake.
It was 2 p.m. on a Sunday in the Philippines; it was around midnight on a Sunday in Montana, USA. Jeff was trying to hook up my laptop to the TV screen so I have a “better view” of what was happening back home. After several tries, my supportive husband succeeded. I was chanting and clapping as one contingent after another performed in honor of the Señor Santo Niño.
I was awake the whole morning.
I served fresh milk and chocolate chip cookies to my children, who danced to the Sinulog beat.
The dancing wore them out eventually and one by one, they fell asleep. I waited until the fireworks display, which marked the end of the grand parade, before I turned off my laptop and slept on the couch.
I am a happy kid this year as I am physically back in Cebu to join the rest of my fellow devotees in thanksgiving for all the blessings of good health, career and love of family and friends.
I am a happy Cebuano to be home again to witness the Sinulog Festival. I look forward to walk and roam the streets and experience a safer and cleaner celebration.
Call me boring, but I do like the fact that we have less parties this year. I hope to bring my children around the city and show them that this is both a time of clean fun and solemn observance. This is part of their heritage after all.
Viva Señor Santo Niño!