Symbols of Hope: The 15th Belenismo sa Tarlac
Text and images by Isabel Cojuangco Suntay of the Tarlac Heritage Foundation, Philippines Belenismo sa Tarlac is a symbol of unity, creativity, and love where Tarlaqueños come together to construct Belen entries for the festival. Belenismo sa Tarlac, “the art of making a Belen,” is held annually in the province of Tarlac. It highlights the depiction of the birth of the child Jesus, which is celebrated as Christmas in most parts of the Christian world and commemorates the love of Jesus, our Savior. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Belenismo was celebrated in accordance with the government’s health protocols and became a symbol of hope for the people. Belenismo sa Tarlac is a Department of Tourismcalendared event that started in 2007 under the leadership of the founders of the Tarlac Heritage Foundation, Doña Isabel Cojuangco Suntay and Ms. Isa Cojuangco Suntay. It is the reason why the Province of Tarlac was dubbed the “Belen Capital of the Philippines” and became a member of the Federacion Española de Belenistas. This year marks the festival’s 15th anniversary, with 51 registered participants showcasing their talents and artistry in making Belens in five categories: community, church, monumental, grand non-municipal, and grand municipal. One entry stands out, as hardly anyone will miss a Belen so big that allows children to play inside it. The Belen entry of the Armed Forces of the Philippines is situated in the Northern Luzon Command (NOLCOM) under the grand non-municipal category. It has the semblance of a castle with the nativity scene placed on an upper platform and an actual playground where children can have fun. The AFP Belen brings to the fore the need now more than ever for unity, anchored on faith, love, hope, kindness, and compassion. The AFP Belen at NOLCOM has been inducted into the grand non-municipal category Hall of Fame twice. This shows that the AFP is not only good at protecting the people and the state but is also an active participant in community building. Another eye-catching spectacle in the monumental category is the Armor Division’s Confectionery Belen in Camp O’Donnell, Capas Tarlac, which is made mostly from recycled materials. It was built to provide “a walk in the park” concept for children with candy canes and other sweet Christmas treats. The AFP NOLCOM Belen and the Armor Division Confectionery Belen were both designed to bring joy to children and touch their hearts at Christmas. Under the municipal category, the dazzling Belens from the Municipality of San Clemente with the theme “Joy to the World, The Savior has Come!” and the Municipality of Moncada with the theme “ARAKOP Moncada.” Arakop means to embrace, embracing challenges, a new life, and all that is to come with strength, hope, and faith in God. Finally, the Belen from the Municipality of Anao is inspired by a golden Sarimanok, a legendary bird of the Maranao people, which represents harmony, success, and fortune. Other beautiful Belen entries under the church category are also a must see, like the Belen of Sto. Nino Parish in Bamban, Tarlac with a diamond theme symbolizing strength, love, and health. The Belen of Saint Joseph Parish Mayantoc with the theme of “The word was made flesh.” Last but not least, the Belen entries under the community category are captivating, like the Belen of Alagang I.N.A. (Itim na Araw), erected within the barangay covered court of barangay Dicolor, Gerona, Tarlac. It has the theme of silaw, or light in the darkness. Another entry is the “Belen ng Karunungan” of the Tarlac State University, which is inspired by the designs and symbols of its official university logo. The display entry of the Taguiporo Giants Association, which features a nativity scene in a volcano-designed Belen, looks astounding and calls the people’s attention to the effects of climate change. In this year’s event, folk dances, rondalla performances, community choirs, and other forms of cultural entertainment that showcase our heritage are part of the Belen display, enhancing our rich culture. Certainly, all 51 Belen displays at the 15th Belenismo sa Tarlac are worth seeing. While the winners of this year’s contest are yet to be announced, you can visit the province of Tarlac - the Belen Capital of the Philippines, during this festive time of the year. Travelers and tourists will surely be impressed by the unique and meaningful Belen displays in the province of Tarlac. Everyone from all over the world is invited and welcome to see the Belen displays until January 6, 2023.