A dancer carries the image of the Child Jesus at a festival parade in Tacloban city on Saturday (Photo by Geoffrey Aparis Jr)
Marching bands, dancers in colorful costumes and young ladies clutching the image of the Child Jesus thumped their feet and performed to the beat of the drums in the streets of Tacloban city over the weekend.
Almost two years after Typhoon Haiyan devastated Leyte province in the central Philippines, killing thousands of people and destroying millions of dollars worth of property in the provincial capital of Tacloban, survivors celebrated "resilience" in the first city fiesta to be held since the typhoon.
"Resilience is seeing Taclobanons with their smiles back on their faces again," said 18-year old Reena Vivienne Pineda, who was crowned "Miss Tacloban" on Saturday.
"Resiliency is about standing here again in the Astrodome celebrating life after Haiyan," Pineda added.
In November 2013, cries for help and anguish were heard in the same venue when a storm surge brought by Haiyan killed at least 30 people who had sought shelter in the Astrodome.
But last weekend, some 5,000 people filled the arena to cheer the beauty pageant contestants and celebrate the city’s fiesta.
In the nearby city of Ormoc, Haidee Apuya, a 35-year old mother, said people have many reasons to be especially thankful during this year's feast of the Child Jesus that is celebrated on Tuesday.
"We were scared during the typhoon, but thanks be to God, we made it," said Apuya, adding that she and her friends would offer a Mass as well as prepare food for the festivities.
"We all welcome the return of our festival," said 16-year old Zaira Margallo who, together with other volunteers, helped secure the parade in Tacloban this weekend.
"We wanted to show to the world that we have moved on from the disaster, while thankful of the help we received, and positive of our future with the guidance of our patron saint," said Tacloban city council member Cristina Romualdez.
She said the return of this year’s grand Sangyaw ("to proclaim" in the Waray language) festival in Tacloban marks "the celebration of resiliency and recovery of the people after the typhoon".
The Sangyaw festival, a religious and socio-cultural celebration usually held a day before the feast day, was first held in 1974.
Another traditional celebration, the Pintados festival, is also celebrated in the city during the same week in honor of the Child Jesus.
The two celebrations have been merged this year.
Dancers from Abuyog town show pay homage to the Child Jesus during festivities over the weekend (Photo by Elmer Eclipse)
The Tacloban city government allocated about US$65,000 to bankroll the celebrations while the provincial government funded other activities, including the competition of who will have the best "style and symbolism of worship" to the Child Jesus.
"We want to show to the world our type of strength and resiliency. We are celebrating because we have survived Haiyan," said Leopoldo Dominic Petilla, governor of Leyte.
Monsignor Ramon Aguilos of the Archdiocese of Palo said it's "comforting" that the festival proceeded as planned and encountered no problems.
For many residents, the festival heralded the return to normalcy in the city.
"I am happy that it's back. My children missed it," said Sergio Abequebil, a father of five who sells refreshments. "Business is getting better. I hope it will be like this every day," he said.
This year's festivities also saw two opposing political clans together in one celebration to pay homage to the Child Jesus.
"Today is a time to celebrate unity," said Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, representative of the first district of Leyte in Congress. "We are here because we are all Haiyan victims.
"May this event will bring unity and progress to all," said Romualdez at a celebration sponsored by the Petilla family, political rivals of the Romualdez.
The rift between the political families deepened in 2011 when their supporters clashed in the streets during a parade celebrating the feast.
Karen Tiopes, the region's tourism director, said the celebrations this year are part of a "healing process".
"Watching the parades, the dancers, and feeling the energy of the activities give us a sense of pride and inspiration," Tiopes said.
"[The festival] symbolizes our healing after the storm," she said, adding that it represents the "rebirth of the people" of Leyte.
Tiopes said the return of the festivals also help boost economic recovery. "Every tourist who visits Tacloban is a hero who helped us build back our communities," she said.
She added, however, that the main reason people are celebrating is the feast of the Santo Nino de Tacloban (Child Jesus of Tacloban), the patron saint of the whole province of Leyte.
"Our patron protected us and made the way for us, so in the midst of all these festivities, let us make time to praise and thank the Child Jesus for all He has given us," said Tiopes.