“Panuluyan” rehearsals presage Xmas celebration in PHL (Feature)

By Honor Blanco Cabie

(PNA) – Some Catholic faithful in the country’s national capital region have started this early rehearsing for the “Panuluyan,” the Tagalog version of the Mexican “Las Posadas” which literally means seeking entrance or seeking lodging in Bethlehem.

The “Panuluyan” is a flashy display of a religious culture which would usher in the celebration of Christmas in this largely Christian country of 98 million people which received the Cross in the 16th century.

At Brookside Hills subdivision in Cainta east of Manila, members of a religious group from the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish have started the rehearsal. This would go full blast in early December with participants in the “Panuluyan” going from one house to another -– on different dates of course until Christmas eve –- with previous understanding those where they stage the “panuluyan” will give the act participants a token of their efforts and gesture in what some describe as “the spirit of cheer and gift-giving.”

The “panuluyan” is a dramatic ritual in song –- and sometimes in dance -– which depicts the search for an inn in Bethlehem which culminated in a manger, or what Ilocanos call in their tongue the “kuluong.”

The “panuluyan” of many Tagalogs is called “panawagan” by those in Cavite and Batangas, “kagharong” by those in Camalig town in Albay and other towns of the palm-dotted Bicol peninsula, and “daigon, pakaon” among many in the Visayas like Cebu, Leyte and Sagay City in Negros Occidental.

”Panuluyan” itself is generally held on the eve of Christmas, when many Catholic Christians prepare for the midnight Mass, a graphic dramatization of the search for Bethlehem by Joseph and Mary shortly before what many Catholics believe is the birth of Jesus Christ.

Observers of the religious scene say on or off stage, some Christmas customs –- from Batanes down to the Christian towns of Mindanao -– now involve pro-theatrical dances, while Joseph and Mary earnestly look for lodging in Bethlehem with the shepherds –- or the “pastores” -– singing and dancing in each house they go to.

These observers add that ritual dances have been appended to the custom, with dances that have blossomed into festivals like the “sinulog” in Cebu in January and the “dinagyang” in Iloilo.

Yet another add-on feature to the tradition is what some call the “batalia” or the choreographed skirmish.

The “panuluyan” originated from the Mexican nine-day Christmas ritual called “posadas,” the only difference between the two is that the “panuluyan” only takes place on one night.

Religious historians say Mexican sailors from the galleons during Spanish colonization probably brought the custom to Tagalog and Bicol towns.

The Acapulco or Manila galleons were Spanish trading ships that sailed once or twice per year across the Pacific Ocean between Manila in the Philippines and Acapulco in New Spain, now Mexico, with the service inaugurated in 1565, 44 years after Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan discovered the Philippines for Europe.

The “panuluyan” procession begins with the images of St. Joseph and the Virgin Mary on floats being wheeled out of the church yard at about 7 p.m.

The annual dramatization has seen two singers vocalizing the two parts accompanied by musicians.

They stop at three or four homes throughout the barangay or town proper -– these are representative of the inns where the actors and actresses plead for lodging in song.

The singers, representing the house owners or inn keepers, inform them that they cannot provide lodging for different reasons.

Some observers say “one sings that his house is overflowing with guests, a couple may claim to be too poor to take them in, another person gives the excuse that the real owner is out, or argues that it is unsafe to let in strangers at night.”

The ritual ends towards midnight, where the midnight Mass is about to begin. At the singing of the “Gloria” the nativity scene is unveiled at the altar.

The re-enactment of the “panuluyan” at Brookside is not a full-length dramatization in one house but is done in several acts, to complete the scene in four houses they will stage the ritual in.

This will coincide with the start of the pre-dawn Masses in predominantly Catholic Philippines on Dec 16, culminating on Dec 24 when the faithful attend the “Simbang Gabi” or “Misa de Gallo” or Mass of the rooster.

The pre-dawn Masses originated in Mexico and were held at 4 a.m. to accommodate the farmers who had to be in the fields by dawn during harvest season.

According to cultural scene observers, the pre-dawn Masses tradition continues to date.

At 3 a.m., the church bells peal to summon the people to the service. In some rural areas a band might play a medley of Christmas tunes to awaken the town.

After the lively service, churchgoers will filter out into the church yard, bless themselves with steaming cups of coffee, tea or chocolate and freshly baked rice cakes like “bibingka” –- made from rice flour topped with carabao cheese and grated coconut, or “puto bumbong,” the purple glutinous rice cake steamed in bamboo cylinders and sprinkled with grated coconut and brown sugar, and other native delicacies -– hung lanterns of different colors not far away.

The lanterns represent the star of Bethlehem, the guiding light that led, as many Catholics are made to believe, the three wise men to the infant Child.

This emblem of Philippine Christmas, where the season is longest in any Catholic nation, embodies what some observers call the spirit of hospitality that prevails during Yuletide.

Not far from the church yard, carolers sing: “Joy to the World, the Lord is come!/Let earth receive her King;’ Let every heart prepare Him room,’ And Heaven and nature sing,/And Heaven and nature sing,/And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.//

The words and lyrics of this old Christmas carol ‘Joy to the World’ were written in 1719 by Isaac Watts (1674-1748), who was ordained as a Pastor of an Independent congregation.