Published November 20, 2018, 12:05 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat



Christmas in the Philippines starts on the first day of September? You’ve another think coming.

In the province of Tarlac (voting population 650,000) it begins in July, when young and old gear up for its single biggest spectacle, the pride and joy of the province, “Belenismo.” Five months to create a creche or Nativity scene, out of recycled and recyclable materials known to man and the environment: this year, 52 belen in the competition for the most wondrous tableaux depicting the Infant Jesus in a manger surrounded by his earthly parents, a flock of sheep and their shepherds, a host of angels, and three kings from the Orient.

Last July, the townspeople started collecting scraps of wood, weeds, plastic in all its forms, bottle caps and crowns, sticks and shells, fiber and fabric from fields and homes, knocking on doors for trash, anything old and useless waiting to become useful. Anton Cruz, 14, of Fairlane, Tarlac City, spent three weeks working solo on his creation. Almaville Subd. in Moncada chose “bibingka” for their theme, weaving the likeness of its ingredients into their project. George Yang memo’ed all McDo outlets in the province to set up their own belen. When SM in San Roque, Tarlac City, heard that their display last year could’ve been brighter, they made up for it this time by lighting up with a million LED bulbs and then some.

Inspiration was plentiful all around. A small army of journalists and friends of Isabel and Isa Suntay, the mother-daughter team behind Tarlac Heritage Foundation, enjoyed the arduous task of judging 26 finalists from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. on a clear, crisp night last Sunday. Japan’s sakura, for Fr. Cris Lozano of San Roque parish, Tarlac City. Noah’s Ark, the Holy Family traveling on a boat (with a tiny galaxy of stars caught in their fishing net), for Fr. Noel Paguinto and his crew from Fairlane Subd., Tarlac City. Wait till you see how 21 Army soldiers made a superfabulous jewel of a monstrance!

Capas Mayor Reynaldo Catacutan bewailed that extra funds to join the competition may be low, “but the Christmas spirit of the people will always be high.” Visit Belenismo now, up to Jan. 6, and have a sparkling dose.