Santo Niño Fiesta

Celebrating the Santo Niño fiesta brings every Taclobanon home, reconnecting them to their historical, cultural and geographical roots, even as they take in the heady nourishment of their senses during the fiesta. To the founding members of An Taclobanon Association of Southern California, observing this tradition of coming together every year to pray, eat, and dance in honor of the Senior Santo Niño de Tacloban was the very inspiration for organizing themselves into a non-profit organization in 1985.

As local historians and scholars on Leyte-Samar heritage studies[1] would attest, devotion to the Santo Niño started over three centuries ago in 1770 when the Augustinians[2]- established a visita (barrio with a chapel) in Tacloban, naming the Tacloban Mission, Dulce Nombre de Jesus. The Santo Niño image came from Cebu. In well documented accounts by Antonio Pigafetta, it was in Cebu where Ferdinand Magellan over three centuries earlier on April 1551 had given the image of the Holy Child as a baptismal gift to Lady Humamay, wife of Rajah Humabon. The wooden image was believed to be made by Flemish artisans. As that image of the Santo Niño miraculously survived a fire in Cebu in 1565, so did the image of the Santo Niño de Tacloban miraculously survived a fire that destroyed the ship carrying the mission cargo from Manila in 1889.  It had been sent to Manila for repairs, in preparation for a grand fiesta set for the third week of January 1889.

The image fondly called, El Capitan, was so named because the image of the Holy Child that was kept by the Order of St. Augustine Recoletos was also called El Capitan. El Capitan's vestment of silver and gold sets the Sr. Santo Niño de Tacloban apart from the rest of the Santo Niño de Tacloban images, namely the El Teniente and El Sargento. Sr. Santo Niño de Tacloban - the El Capitan, is enshrined in the Santo Niño Church in Tacloban. El Teniente was the replacement image that allowed the Hermanidad in 1889 to celebrate the Tacloban fiesta as scheduled. El Sargento, the smallest image among the three, is the one being used in celebration of the Santo Niño fiesta in January, a smaller scale celebration with kids as the main participants.

A 2006 Souvenir Program for the 117th Fiesta Celebration of the Sr. Santo Niño de Tacloban[3] expresses a story that never fails to tug every Taclobanon's heartstrings, even if told for the nth time.

“As the date for the town fiesta observance approached, the people held their usual nine-day novena. With a borrowed image, the fiesta was celebrated as scheduled. Meanwhile, the Hermanidad bought a new image of the Santo Niño as replacement of the missing image. This is now known as the El Teniente.

Sometime in May 1889, Don Jose Gil de Avalle, military governor of Leyte, received a letter from the governor of Mindoro, informing the Leyte military governor that a box labeled “Santo Niño Patron de Tacloban” was found floating on the sea by two fishermen just off the island of Semirara. Tales about it tell that the fishermen saw the box with a child (a little boy) above waving to them. Curios, they went offshore to take a close look and save the box with the little boy. To their surprise, they didn’t find a child on top of the box. When they opened it, they saw the image of Santo Niño and he was the same little boy they saw on top of the box.

Jubilant over the news, the Hermanidad lost no time in recruiting volunteers to retrieve the image from where it was found. On June 6, that year, a party of nine men left for Semirara on a chartered motor launch “Consuelo.” At that time, Tacloban was in the grip of a severe cholera epidemic. A procession of the image of San Roque (protector and patron of the sick) was scheduled for the afternoon of June 30, 1889.

In the afternoon of that day June 30th, the boat Consuelo carrying the beloved image of Santo Niño, docked on Panalaron in Tacloban amidst the greetings of rejoicing Taclobanons. The procession now became a welcome for the patron. To commemorate this miraculous return of the image of the Santo Niño, the date of the traditional fiesta of Tacloban was changed from the third Sunday of January to June 30th of every year."

The annual celebration of the Senior Santo Niño de Tacloban in Southern California started in June 1982. After the founding of the An Taclobanon Association  of Southern California, the association  spearheaded the annual fiesta celebration, organizing the religious activity with the Hermanos Mayores. The Santo Niño Fiesta has since become more elaborate, and increasingly bigger in attendance as the Association's membership increased.[4]

[1] Excerpts from an article by Nazareno-Ballesteros with direct quotations from Father Gilbert Urbina, as published on the Leyte-Samar Daily Express website, accessed on 7/4/2013.
[2] The Order of St. Augustine Recoletos took over the Tacloban parish after the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1768. The Jesuits started their mission in the Leyte-Samar region in 1596.
[3]Ibid.,  Nazareno-Ballesteros.
[4] 2013 Souvenir Program for the Annual Fiesta Celebration in Honor of Señor Santo Niño, Buena Park, California.

El Capitan

An Taclobanon Association of Southern California contingent at the 2016 Sangyaw Festival of Lights Parade held in Tacloban City, Philippines on June 29th.
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