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The Panunuluyan, Pinoy Live Version of St. Francis' Belen

by Clyde Ericson Nolasco

Pinoy Christmas is indeed colorful. Filipinos do not run out of creativity celebrating this festive season of the Catholic Church. We have the glittering parols or Christmas lanterns and puto bumbong and bibingka are again available just outside the Church during the Misa de Gallo or Simbang Gabi masses.

Aside from all these, we also have the Panunuluyan. It appears to be the Pinoy dramatized version of the Belen.

St. Bonaventure tells us that it was St. Francis who started the Belen | Photo from Monastery Icons

The Belen of St. Francis

A significant Catholic Christmas tradition, the Belen is the depiction of the simplicity of the Nativity of the Lord Jesus, the bareness of the first Christmas.

With his ardent devotion to the Child Jesus and the holy desire to visit Bethlehem, the humble birthplace of the Lord, St. Francis of Assisi (yes, the Patron Saint of Ecology himself!) started the tradition of putting up a nativity scene on the Christmas eve in the year 1223.

He said to his friend: “I want to do something that will recall the memory of that Child who was born in Bethlehem, to see with bodily eyes the inconveniences of his infancy, how he lay in the manger, and how the ox and ass stood by."

In a cave in the Italian town of Greccio, he set up the first Christmas crib, an empty manger complete with live ox and donkey. It was said that the holy saint recreated the scene to fight against greed and materialism as the Baby Jesus was born in simplicity and poverty.

St. Scho Manila stages their Panunuluyan during their Peace Camp, the school's annual Christmas celebration | Photo from St. Scholastica's College Manila Facebook Page

The Philippines’ Panunuluyan

The Panunuluyan is a local Christmas tradition usually staged on Christmas eve reenacting Mary and Joseph's search for a suitable place for Mary to give birth to Jesus, the Messiah. This is similar to the Mexican Christmas tradition “posadas” also showing the holy couple’s plight.

Mary and Joseph are depicted walking desperately looking for a place where they can stay for the night. They would seek help from families but would be turned down until they reach the stable. Some interpretations of Panunuluyan would include modern songs or adapt present situations to make the story of Christmas more relatable.

In this Pinoy live dramatization of St. Francis’ Belen, the journey of Mary and Joseph ends at the Church for the Christmas eve Mass and at the singing of the “Gloria,” the Baby Jesus is brought to the Belen signaling the beginning of the Christmas season.

In these traditions, we are reminded of the depth of the celebration. That more than the flickering decors and lights, the countless presents we receive and the endless holiday cheers, the true sense of Christmas is welcoming Jesus in our midst. That out of God’s love for humanity, He allowed His only begotten Son to be one of us. Because of God’s love, we have Jesus, because of Jesus, we celebrate Christmas.

Definitely, Jesus is the reason for the season!
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