A Mexican Christmas in the Philippines

ROSES & THORNS  - Alejandro R. Roces -

We were gratified to read that the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the Manila Broadcasting Company are preparing a grand celebration of the Panunuluyan. The Panunuluyan  is the Philippine version of a Mexican Christmas tradition that dates back to the 16th century.

The las posadas, meaning “the inns,” was first conceived by St. John of the Cross in 1580 as a processional version of the Holy Family’s journey to Bethlehem and subsequent search for lodging. Seven years later it was introduced in Mexico by Roman Catholic missionaries. From there, it rapidly spread through Latin  America, and even to the Philippines via the galleon trade.

The Latin American festivity is a novena that begins on December 16 and ends on December 24. During each night, a candle-lit procession of neighborhood children and adults will journey to three pre-selected homes (representing inns) seeking shelter for Joseph and Mary. The Holy Couple is usually represented by either two small statues or children. At the first two homes, the heartfelt request of Joseph for shelter is rejected; but at the third home the request is accepted, the doors to the home are flung open and the pilgrims are greeted by a table laid out with traditional Christmas fare. A communal celebration ensues, including a star-shaped piñata for the children and a hot beverage called “ponche”  for adults. Each night this ritual is performed with the procession ending in different homes. On the ninth night, or noche buena, the pilgrims re-enact the birth of Christ in the final home.

In the Philippines, the Panunuluyan, meaning “looking for lodging,” is celebrated on Christmas Eve. To begin the event, images of Mary and Joseph are wheeled from the church courtyard, usually accompanied by two singers. They journey to three or four homes that represent inns, sing their plight and request for shelter. The innkeepers, played by a choir, inform them that the inn is full. In the end, the Holy Couple returns to the Church for the Nativity and at the stroke of midnight appear at the altar amid great rejoicing.

The Cultural Center of the Philippines and the Manila Broadcasting Company are taking elements of the las posadas  and Panunuluyan  and bringing it into the 21st century. Their version of the panunuluyan will have Joseph and Mary being followed on their journey for shelter by hundreds of people representing Filipinos who seek a better life. During their journey, which will begin at the north end of Roxas Boulevard, stops will be made at local hotels and the Folk Arts Theater before ending on the lawn of the CCP for a spectacular Nativity scene. This Belen promises to be especially moving as singers, dancers and musicians will guide the Holy Couple to the CCP, where they will be greeted by a 1,000-voice choir and two bands, the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra and the PPO Brass Quintet.

The Panunuluyan is an integral part of the Philippine Christmas celebration, and a reminder of our close historical ties to Mexico. It is admirable that the CCP and Manila Broadcasting Company are taking steps to keep our traditions relevant in a changing world. This modern Panunuluyan is set for today, December 18 at 6:45 p.m. We hope it proves so successful it becomes a new member of our yearly Christmas festivities.

Very few people know that the original state of Texas was once part of Mexico. When it was part of Mexican territory, it was not called Texas. It was called Nuevas Filipinas. It had that name because so many Filipinos accumulated in Mexico because of the galleon trade and they lived in the unsettled part of Mexico, which became Texas. So some of the earliest Texas settlers were Filipinos.

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