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Tarlac's ‘belen' glitters with recyclables PDF Print E-mail
Written by Estrella Torres   
Wednesday, 21 November 2012 01:00

TARLAC—In this season of plenty and crass materialism, people have virtually forgotten the reason Christmas is being celebrated as they are more focused in acquiring the latest electronic gadgets, clothes or whatever things they fancy. Add to that is the pressure on the environment with the papers, plastics and other non-biodegradable materials that are used as wrappers, bags or containers of the products.

In Tarlac, however, at the center of the celebration is the belen, a traditional symbol of Christmas in the Philippines with the image of the Child Jesus—for whose birth Christmas is celebrated—in a manger with the Holy Child surrounded by the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, Three Kings, donkeys and sheeps. It also reminds people of the true meaning of Christmas—simplicity.

The belen has inspired the people of Tarlac province in Central Luzon to hold an annual competition for each town to promote values like simplicity, unity and care for the environment.

The project "Belenismo sa Tarlac," now on its sixth year, has been showcasing the creativity of the people of this province known for its vast agricultural lands and rich natural resources.

Beginning November until January, the whole province of Tarlac glitters with the huge belen displayed in every town. The creatively designed belen attracts locals from nearby provinces, as well as those from Manila.

The Department of Tourism (DOT) and the Tarlac Heritage Foundation launched the Belenismo sa Tarlac tour on November 10 to promote green tourism and highlight the creativity of the people from the province. The DOT brought travel journalists from Manila to various towns of Tarlac, where giant belen are displayed.

Dr. Isa Cojuangco-Suntay, co-founder of Belenismo sa Tarlac, said the program has advocated that at least 50 percent of every belen must be made of indigenous materials and recyclable items.

Cojuangco-Suntay said most of the items used by the local people of Tarlac are indigenous materials from agricultural farms like talahib (common grass) and rice stalks.

She told the BusinessMirror that other items intricately designed for belen include bamboo, twigs, rice hulls, palay, anahaw, sugar cane, and even recycled PET bottles and soft drink cans.

There are around 20 belen displayed inside the museum of Tarlac Heritage Foundation which are made by students from public high schools in Tarlac province.

The designs of the various belen reflect the agricultural environment the young people grew up from. There are belen with farms and carabaos, pet puppies and native chickens instead of donkeys and sheeps.

There is a belen inspired by the famous Underground River in Palawan, now declared as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Another is inspired by famous Philippine festivals like the Peñafrancia in Bicol; another one has a Muslim mosque.

In a belen designed by a 13-year-old girl in a lotus pond in front of their house, the Child Jesus is placed in a makeshift small carriage with the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph dressed as simple farmers.

One of the well-liked belen is that from Moncada town, which is 90 percent made of recycled materials, like plastic bottles, shampoo sachets and plastics, gathered from the public market and donated by homeowners.

The Moncada belen glitters from afar with a crystal-like giant angel at the background of the Child Jesus. But at a closer look, the angel is just made of plastic water bottles and lighted from behind.

It also has mannequins of dancing couples on the side and carabaos guarding the belen. The figures glitter from afar as if made of silver and crystals, although they are simply made of shampoo sachets collected from the trash.

Cojuangco-Suntay said Belenismo sa Tarlac emphasized on the need to care for the environment and promote recycling among the next generation.

"Since the belen is quite costly and time-consuming to put up, most participants find a way to recycle parts of their previous year's belen or even solicit parts of other belen," said Cojuangco-Suntay.

She said every year, the various belen are reconfigured to come up with new creative displays.

Christmas is, indeed, more meaningful if happiness depends on simplicity, nurturing the environment and using waste to create beauty, and there is love for God and neighbor.

The people of Tarlac show this with every belen displayed in their towns.