The month of January is marked in the Philippines with several festivals honoring the Sto. Nino or the Holy Child. The most famous is the Sinulog Festival in Cebu City, but in other parts of the country, there are: the Ati-Atihan Festival in Kalibo, Aklan; Dinagyang Festival in Iloilo City; and Biniray in Romblon, to name a few.
These celebrations are usually marked by nine-day novenas or masses in honor of the Sto.Niño; grand processions of folk, antique and new images of the Holy Child; and street dancing, beauty pageants, flea markets and fireworks.
Ati-atihan. The Ati-atihan was the original street celebration centuries before the Sinulog and Dinagyang festivals. It was a traditional cultural festival of this island nation held in the town of Kalibo in the province of Aklan. It is not a native festival, though, because it was started by the immigrants from Borneo who bought land form the locals of Panay and became its settlers. The festival was actually a celebration of these settlers called Malay Datus for having purchased the land. They painted themselves black with soot to look like the islanders and held dancing parades in large groups.
The main attraction of the Ati Atihan Festival is people painting themselves black and gyrating to the sounds of loud drums. Bull fights, snake dance, beauty pageants, late night parties etc., are all part of the celebration. The Spanish influence to the festivities came when much later the Spanish settlers struck a deal with the atis and the datus, and only then did the celebrations start to be dedicated to the Santa Nino.
Biniray Festival in Romblon. Another lesser known festival is the Biniray Festival in Romblon but proves to be more beautiful and colorful than other festivals.
The festival features dancing by participants in extremely colorful costumes.
The flotilla of vessels which commemorates the Spanish galleons’ attempts to take away the Santo Niño, highlights the festival. The fluvial procession circles Romblon Bay seven times in a reenactment of the Spaniards attempts.
The procession is then followed by another parade of the Santo Niño images. They are carried around town in a carriage filled with beautiful flowers. People, with faces and bodies all painted up, join the parade in costumes.
The Biniray Festival is one way of giving thanks to the residents’ bountiful life and prosperous economy.