Panunuluyan: Reviving a Filipino Christmas tradition in New YorkBy Momar G. Visaya
The decision to ban holding masses in the Philippine Center may very well be a blessing in disguise.
The Archdiocese of New York ordered the Filipino community to stop celebrating the traditional Simbang Gabi sa Konsulado (Dawn Mass at the consulate), which was held at the Philippine Center – every Filipino’s home away from home – for 26 consecutive years.
Undeterred by the sanction, community leaders met with the officials of the Philippine Consulate to keep Filipino Christmas traditions alive.
Twenty-seven Filipino-American Community Organizations banded together with the Philippine Consulate General in New York and the Philippine Center-NY to stage a revival of the “Panunuluyan”, a Christmas folk tradition staged in many towns, cities, and provinces in the Philippines.
The Panunuluyan, like the Simbang Gabi, was held for nine consecutive days at the Kalayaan Hall of the Philippine Center. For many Filipino Americans, it was an event where they can catch up with old friends and celebrate traditions they grew up practicing in the Philippines.
“At this time of the year, it is our love for our country and fellowmen that brings us together as one family but, it is our love for God which brings us to our roots to rediscover the ways and means to be closer to Him in this modern commercial world we live in,” said Vivian Talambiras Cruz, chairman of the Coalition of Philippine Schools Alumni Associations, which co-sponsored the first night in partnership with the United Nations Philippine Cultural Society and the San Lorenzo Ruiz Choir.
Cruz also thanked the consulate officials led by Consul General Mario De Leon for their advocacy on behalf of the Filipino constituents, support and commitment to making the Philippine Center the “home” away from home of Filipinos – where we can gather, celebrate and unite as a community and celebrate the real meaning of Christmas.
“Around this time of the year, Filipinos from all walks of life come together to reenact the search of Mary and Joseph for lodging. We are all pilgrims, we are all journeying in this world,” ConGen De Leon said. “At the core Filipino spirit of hope, faith and community. By reviving native traditions like this, we are contributing in keeping our Filipino Christmas traditions alive.”
The Philippines is known for having the world’s longest Christmas season. The season starts on September 1, which is when malls and radio stations begin playing Christmas songs. the celebrations don’t end on December 31, it extends up to the Feast of the Epiphany or Three Kings.
In 2011, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) called on the Filipino Catholic Faithful to honor and observe Philippine yuletide traditions such as the Panunuluyan and thereby re-affirm our unique cultural identity and faith.
The Panunuluyan, which is a re-enactment by present-day faithful of the difficult search of Joseph and Mary for lodging/shelter in Bethlehem, is a tradition which brings together Filipinos in their own journeys of faith and hope. The ritual is realized in re-enactments, seasonal hymns, prayers, fellowship and a reflection on the Christian’s journey towards salvation.
“In this year of faith, as we “re-introduce” this time-forgotten Filipino tradition to fellow kababayans outside our beloved country, the Panunuluyan at the Philippine Center is a continuation of long-held and beloved Filipino tradition – families getting together during Christmas, marked by singing, salu-salo, puto bumbong and bibingka. I am happy that we are also continuing our 26 year tradition of being one family at the Philippine Center, our home away from home during this most special time of the year,” Cruz added.
The Panunuluyan represents the journey of Filipinos from the Philippines to the United States, from the separation from families, neighbors and friends; walking away from what is familiar and safe to the unfamiliar and untested, to the challenges of making a name and a home in a foreign land. It also celebrates hope, charity and the triumph over adversity.
“It’s really a big deal to have the Panunuluyan here in the Consulate in New York. We could say that the Filipino Christmas tradition is not just limited to the celebration of Simbang Gabi,” said Father Patrick Longalong, parochial vicar at Our Lady of the Snows Parish Church in Floral Park, New York.
On the second day of Panunuluyan, singer David Pomeranz made an appearance.
“He just walked in one day to give us a courtesy call,” ConGen De Leon said. They invited him to join the Panunuluyan and without hesitation, he said yes.
Pomeranz performed a couple of his best hits – Got to Believe in Magic and Born for You, and then sang his own version of the Gary Valenciano hit Pasko na Sinta Ko, which the audience loved so much. The singer was mobbed after the mass and he gamely posed for photos with his fans.
Every evening of the Panunuluyan included a reading on the gospel of the day followed by a reflection by a member of the clergy.
There is also a prayer for the Filipino Migrant – written by DCG Dizon-De Vega and Fil-Am leader Ilo Echevarria-Wallenstein and read each night of the event, followed by the symbolic turnover of the image of the infant Jesus to the following evening’s sponsors.
The prayer read:
As the Holy Father calls on the faithful to rediscover the journey of faith, which is often neglected in the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, we join hands in this special celebration of the Panunuluyan so as to share in the rediscovery of your great love for us — a love which made you sacrifice your own beloved son to redeem the world from sin.
We pray for each and every migrant who is commemorating the sacred season away from the company of their loved ones and the comfort of places familiar and dear. May they always, like Jesus, Mary and Joseph, find welcoming hearts wherever they may be.
A festive gathering or salu-salo followed each night of the Panunuluyan and participants feasted on traditional Christmas goodies like bibingka and puto bumbong, downed with a warm cup of salabat. Other days offered more Christmas fare like pancit, lumpia, adobo and hamon.
The Panunuluyan at the Center was likewise reflective of the diversity of the Philippines with re-enactments staged in various regional dialects such as the Waray version called the “Panarit”, and in a mixture of Filipino and English, Ilokano, among others. The revival also showcased the creativity of the Filipino-American Community as the stagings range from the traditional Panunuluyan to versions incorporating contemporary cultural references and issues.
Consul General De Leon and Consul Bong Carreon even took on minor roles as shepherds during the Nativity scene, while Deputy Consul General Tess Dizon-De Vega played the Virgin Mary on the second day.
Various choral groups, led by the San Lorenzo Ruiz Choir, provided music and singing dialogues as Mary and Joseph approached house owners and inn keepers for a place to stay.
In reviving the Panunuluyan, the Filipino-American Community organizers, the Philippine Consulate General, and the Philippine Center hoped to continue contributing to the diverse and unique observance of yuletide traditions which reflect Filipino culture. The Panunuluyan, along with other cherished traditions such as the Simbang Gabi, which will continue to be held in many parishes throughout the US Northeast, provide an opportunity for migrant Filipinos from different generations to celebrate this season of faith in a diverse manner.