In the predominantly Catholic nation of the Philippines, there’s an annual celebration known as the Santo Niño Festival in the city of San Mateo Rizal. This year, the town celebrated their festival for the 40th year.
The festival draws thousands, celebrating the statue of the Child Jesus that resides in the Philippines. The statue was brought to the island nation by Ferdinand Magellan and is one of the oldest Christian relics in the country. The image is celebrated around the country in various ways, but in San Mateo Rizal — home to many sponsored families —it takes on the feel of a Mardi Gras street party with hundreds of replicas of the Santo Niño statue, dressed up with flowers and colorful fabrics. The tribal culture of the earliest history of the Philippines is also celebrated in the parade.
Many families of sponsored members participate in the festival. For 14-year-old Diane’s parents, the festival is a time to show thanksgiving to God and pray for blessings. They’ve attended for 15 years, ever since their first child was born.
Irene is the second of six children in her family, and her mother, Susan, has been participating in the parade for more than 10 years.
“My faith keeps me alive,” Susan said. “[God] always helps me with the things I desire, taking care of my family. I will continue to do this devotion [of the parade] as long as I can.”
In Guatemala, there are many ancient traditions, but the Pandanga Dance is one of the most representative of the culture. Floridalma is a sponsored youth in the town of Santa Lucia Utatlan, where the dance originated.
“The dance has been performed by our people for a long time,” Floridalma said. “My grandfather says it originated in the 1800s.
“It started with a group of men named ‘Chanchalles.’ They would undress and dance covered in soot in order to lift the image of the Holy Sacrament from the ground. The Pandanga dance is performed quickly to the rhythm of drums and whistles. [The dancers] dance on the streets every day for a whole week.”
“We have to value the richness of our culture.“ — Floridalma in Guatemala Click To Tweet
Many people in Floridalma’s town participate in the dance or come to spectate. As the tradition has evolved over time, it has gained new significance and many participate as a form of gratitude or to ask for abundance in the coming year’s crop.
Floridalma has been sponsored for 15 years and is grateful that it’s allowed her access to education — where she can learn even more about her country.
“We have to value the richness of our culture,” Floridalma said. “Our traditions will allow us to educate future generations about who we are and where we come from.”