Bringing back the ‘belen’
The Nativity—or the Biblical depiction of the scene of the birth of Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem—symbolizes the humble roots of the story of salvation.
Christmas in the Philippines had a tradition in which most houses displayed the Nativity or belen, the Spanish word for Bethlehem, until the Christmas tree became more dominant in the last century.
But in Tarlac, the spirit of the Nativity comes alive every year with a competition that promotes the art of making the belen.
The contest, dubbed “Belenismo sa Tarlac,” began in 2007 when Rev. Fr. Alex Bautista, Diocese of Tarlac head of the Commission on Cultural Heritage of the Church, and Isabel Cojuangco-Suntay and her daughter
Dr. Isa Suntay of the Tarlac Heritage Foundation, came up with the idea to help spur interest in the province as the “Belen Capital of the Philippines.”
This year, “Belenismo sa Tarlac” is celebrating its 10th anniversary. Last week, members of the clergy as well as the Suntay and Cojuangco clans gathered at Camp Servillano Aquino in San Miguel, Tarlac, home of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Northern Luzon Command, whose facade featured a Belen entry of AFP soldiers and Philippine National Police officers who saw action in the Marawi siege.
The entry, titled “Marawi sa Panahon ng Kapayapaan,” is a life-size rendition of the belen set in the Lanao del Sur capital, with a mosque and a Catholic church flanking it, and Lake Lanao in the foreground.
Made of recycled material including old wooden platforms, used lights, discarded tarpaulins, leftover sequins, paint, Styrofoam, plywood, camouflage cloth, and previously used statues, costumes and model farm animals, this belen was constructed by Marawi veterans belonging to the Philippine Army’s 7th Infantry Division, Mechanized Infantry Division and the PNP’s Police Regional Office 3.
“This belen is a tribute to their comrades, the heroes of Marawi. May their memories be forever etched in the hearts of our countrymen,” said AFP Lt. Gen. and Philippine Army Commander Rolando Bautista, who attended the event, with other commanders and officers in the Battle of Marawi.
In his opening prayer, Fr. Hector Pamintuan recalled that St. Francis of Assisi—who had a special devotion to the Child Jesus—is credited with creating the first Nativity scene to celebrate the Christmas Eve Mass in a cave in Greccio, Italy, in 1223.
It is also said that St. Francis was inspired to recreate the original Nativity scene to overcome the rampant greed and materialism prevalent at the time in Italy.
This year, “Belenismo sa Tarlac” drew 43 entries in four categories: Community, Church, Monumental and Grand.
A panel of judges held a prejudging Nov. 8-11.
The final judging is on Nov. 18. Awarding ceremonies will be on Dec. 2.
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