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Panunuluyan of Jesus in our hearts

By Apol Baldemor

Filipinos are known to be hospitable. This is one trait we, Filipinos, are most proud of. We normally welcome visitors into our homes like they are part of our family, offering them the most sumptuous meal, the best glassware and even the warmest blankets.

This is the exact contrast of one tradition we usually observe during the Christmas season.

The Panunuluyan at the Metropolitan Cathedral, Naga City, was once again staged on Christmas Eve after Covid19 restrictions have eased. (Photo credit: Dante Garcia)

Panunuluyan or Panuluyan is an old tradition in the Philippines on Christmas eve. It is a dramatic and musical reenactment of Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem on the eve of Jesus’ birth. The ritual is sung as the characters of both Joseph and Mary search for a place to stay in for the night. They will visit three or four houses and each household will deny them shelter. Each household has different reasons, such as: the inn was full for the night; the house is dirty; the master of the house is out, or that it is unsafe to welcome strangers at night. The ritual usually ends at midnight before the Christmas Midnight Mass starts.

Before the pandemic had shut down churches, Bikolanos, have been observing this tradition in various parishes. When Covid-19 hit the country, the faithful were forced to attend Holy Mass online. Several traditions were prerecorded and shown via online. But this year, as safety protocols have eased and churchgoers are once again allowed to attend the Holy Mass, the Metropolitan Naga Cathedral revived the Panunuluyan tradition.

On Christmas eve, the St. John the Evangelist parish in Naga City prepared a special Panunuluyan for the churchgoers. Instead of the traditional ritual, a mixture of prerecorded and live scenes was presented. The prerecorded footages showed the three households that refused to offer shelter to Mary and Joseph. The live scene showed the second part where the Holy Family welcomed the three kings who offered gifts for the child Jesus. There were singing and dancing, as the nativity scene was being narrated.

Aside from the fact that the ritual was divided into two parts, it was also the first time that a live baby portrayed the role as the child Jesus. Churchgoers and even those who watched it through livestream via Facebook and YouTube were delighted to watch a more realistic act.

Just like the Holy Family in the traditional play where Mary and Joseph were declined by different households and found themselves in a stable, the faithful were once again welcomed back into church after being restricted for two long years.

Hospitability in every Filipino family is so much like a Church that welcomes and offers sanctuary to everyone. Christmas this year was made extra special with the Panunuluyan as everyone was reminded once again to open their hearts to Jesus.


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