One of the most famous festivals in the Philippines is the Dinagyang Festival. Celebrated every fourth Sunday of January in the city of Iloilo, the Dinagyang is both a religious and cultural festivity. It is a tribute to Senor Santo Nino, whom the Ilonggos believe is very miraculous especially during times of calamities, and to celebrate the arrival of Malay settlers in the island of Panay.
Every year on this day, the people gather to observe thanksgiving for the blessings of the Santo Nino as streets of the city come alive with cultural extravaganzas. The highlight of the religious observance of the festival is the fluvial procession along Iloilo River. Devotees carrying assorted images of the Child Jesus ride in bancas to later join the foot parade that would end up in the church.
At around the same time merry-making starts with lively parades, extravagant performances, and frenzy dancing with thunderous shouts of "Viva Senor Santo Nino" and "Hala Bira". Dancers in colorful costumes paint their bodies in black to imitate the Negritos or Aetas, who are the aborigines of the island. Because of the fun and pageantry, the Dinagyang Festival is now a major tourist attraction. And yearly, local and foreign visitors flock the island to dance and celebrate with the natives.
Dinagyang means merry-making and comes from the word dagyang, which means to make happy in Iloilo. And this is exactly what the people of Iloilo do – make merry. But more than the pomp, pageantry and color, the emphasis of the festival is the Ilonggos tribute of the patron saint Senor Santo Nino.