By DEIRDRE C. MAYS
COLUMBIA — A swaying procession of Filipinos carrying statues of Santo Niño sang hymns in their native Tagalog and set the mood for a lively evening celebrating the “Holy Child.”
The eighth annual Santo Niño Fiesta, held in the St. John Neumann School gym, drew over 350 people of Philippine heritage Jan. 9. Families, friends and visitors came from other states including North Carolina and Missouri to join in the warm cultural devotion to the infant Jesus.
Father Arturo Dalupang, pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle in North Charleston, celebrated Mass, a day before he was to depart for a visit home to the Philippines, in front of a backdrop of dozens of Santo Niño statues brought by each family. The colorful array was a reminder of faith, culture and family.
The Columbia fiesta, which includes the musical “karakol” procession around the gym, Mass, dinner and a dance, started in 1991 with a gathering of 10 Filipino families. Publicity in churches and newspapers helped multiply attendance to make it official in 1992 and helped it grow into a fiesta attended by hundreds.
“It gets bigger every year,” said Dr. Emily Lacson, who came up with the idea as a way of meeting other families. Up to 500 people at a time have made their way to St. John Neumann for the event over the years.
“I have been just amazed at its success,” she said. “I really didn’t expect it to be like this.”
Though not a practice in every Philippine province, Santo Niño, has been celebrated in Cebu since 1865. It started after Ferdinand Magellan, who discovered the islands in 1521, presented Philippine king and queen, Rajah and Juana Humabon with a small statue of Santo Niño after their conversion to Catholicism. The statue survived the years until a fire burned the site where it was housed. In 1865, it was recovered undamaged. The event marked the beginning of the solemn procession of the image of Santo Niño in the Philippines. The statue is now kept in the Basilica del Santo Niño.
The fiesta is held on the second Saturday of January. It is an all-day affair in the Philippines with the karakol processing down city streets and people sharing large meals in each other’s homes. Lacson and the other Columbia families in her prayer group have created a tradition of their own by sending their Santo Niño statue to altars in each of their houses for one week at a time.
The Columbia Fiesta continues to be sponsored by the original families who prepare traditional food such as pansit, a dish of rice noodles, pork adobo, and lumpia, similar to egg rolls.
Tina Ruiz came from Kansas City, Mo., to visit her daughter, Dr. Julie Igama, a member of St. John Neumann church. Igama brings her family and they attend for the fellowship.
“We seldom get to see all of these people throughout the year,” she said.
Anita Ng attended for her third year. She came with the St. Raphael Catholic Church choir from Raleigh, N.C. The church’s Filipino priest, Father Nestor Adalia, came to say Mass several years ago. Ng, who is a regular now, didn’t celebrate Santo Niño as a child in Manila.
“I wasn’t aware of it,” she said, “but now I always enjoy it and look forward to it every year.”