Monday, January 17, 2011


From Maryland to Virginia, Filipino-Americans celebrated the feast of the Santo Nino – the image of the Infant Jesus.

The Aklan Ati-Atihan of Virginia (AAAV) got a head-start marking the feast on Jan. 8 at the Chesapeake Conference Center in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia. It was also an occasion to swear in the group’s new executives, led by incoming president Joy Asban who will serve from 2011 to 2013.

The Ati-Atihan commemorates the Panay (one of the major islands in the Central Philippines) barter in the 13th century.

Malay datus from Borneo established a settlement in Panay with the consent of the Ati’s, the indigenous Negrito community.

When Spanish conquistadors arrived in the area, they replaced the pagan rituals with Christian meaning, assigning the image of the Infant Jesus as the natives’ patron – transforming it as a religious festival.

The highlight of the festival is a parade dictated by the cadence of rhythmic drums, participants divided into “tribes” and carrying different images of the Santo Nino. Dancers are covered in soot to mimic the Ati’s appearance.

Variations have emerged over the years, prompting organizers to schedule the events – the Ati-Atihan goes first in Kalibo, Aklan, followed by the Sinulog festival in Cebu and the Dinagyang in Iloilo.

The festivals were developed into a year-long mardi gras tourist attraction; though less religiously inclined the Binirayan festival in Antique held in April and the week-long MassKara festival held in October draws heavily on the influence of the Ati-Atihan.

In Maryland, the Mother Butler’s Guild of St. Mary marked the 11th Fiesta ng Santo Nino on Jan. 16 at the St. Mary’s Church in Rockville. The 2:00 PM mass was capped by an early evening dinner dance.

The Lord is my Shepherd Charismatic Group held a Filipino mass in honor of the Santo Nino at the Christ the King Church in Silver Spring, MD.

The feast fell on the regular 3rd Sunday Filipino mass at St. Michael’s Church in Silver Spring on Jan. 16. The mass was officiated by Msgr. Mariano Balbago Jr.

This too was followed by a dinner dance held partly in honor of January birthday celebrants.

The celebration was organized by the Fil-Am Ministry of St. Michael and the Migrant Heritage Commission, and featured the Cebu Sinulog Dancers of Metro DC as well as the Ati-Atihan of Maryland.

Through the years, the Ati-Atihan has become a distinguishing facet of the Fil-Am community in the Metro DC region, keeping a presence in some major American events like the 4th of July parade in Washington DC.

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