MANILA – More than a traditional symbol of Christmas, celebrations with the "belen" (Nativity scene) carry stories of faith, hope, and resilience.
In Tarlac province, the holiday season will not be complete without the yearly “Belenismo”, which brings out the creativity of municipalities, churches, and communities to create colorful, life-sized belen structures out of simple materials.
Tarlac Heritage Foundation co-founder, Dr. Isabel Cojuangco-Suntay, led a group of judges from Saturday late afternoon until the wee hours of Sunday to see the colorful entries that lit up various part of the province.
Despite being a yearly event, the creativity of the belen makers continues to awe spectators.
“Every year, it’s always a surprise. You see the creativity of people, their hope, their dreams, it’s their vision that they exhibit in their belens, so it’s a personal relationship at this time of the year for communities and people. It's always a delight when people give tribute to the significance of the birth of Child Jesus in the manger. That is the spirit of Christmas,” Suntay said in an interview.
Belenismo sa Tarlac started in 2007 and not even the Covid-19 pandemic stopped it last year, as the province cemented its title as the “Belen Capital of the Philippines”.
The Belenismo found more significance amid the global health crisis as it reminds people that there is always hope as long as there is faith in their hearts, according to Suntay.
Macara compound in Barangay San Isidro fielded two entries this year.
Last year, it was the grand winner in the community category.
Jojo Baluyot helped make the two entries -- now bigger -- with the aim to bring across a message of hope.
“'Yung belen ng Macara, ang pinaka message niya sa gitna ng pandemya at pagsubok na pinagdadanan natin araw araw, parang pinapaalala niya na mayroong bagong araw na sisinag, na mayroong bagong pag-asa at liwanag na ibibigay sa atin (The belen of Macara carries the message that amid the pandemic and other challenges that we are going through, we should be reminded that the sun will always rise to give us light and hope),” Baluyot said.
Aside from using recycled materials, some entries incorporated fresh seafood placed in ice while Anao town’s belen is scented with ylang-ylang flower that one can smell from afar.
The winners in the community, church, monumental, and municipal/non-municipal categories will be announced in December.
All entries must be displayed and lit up until Jan. 6, 2022. A winner not maintaining the quality of the entry will incur deductions from the cash prize.
If elevated to the hall of fame after a certain number of wins, a contest-worthy entry must still be put up the following year even if it won’t be qualified for a prize anymore.
Suntay said if one is looking for hope and inspiration, a visit to Tarlac may be needed.
“Everybody’s welcome as long as you wear your face masks. Don’t forget your face shields and observe social distancing. Since the vaccine rollout has been successful throughout the country, we hope that the economy can come back to life and tourism will boom once again and Filipinos can come together in the spirit of love, peace, and hope for 2022,” Suntay said. (PNA)