Tag Archives: Christmas in the Philippines

#355 Belen

Belen is a big and well-loved tradition in Pinoy Christmas

Another traditional Filipino Christmas symbol is the belen — a tableau representing the Biblical Nativity scene. Derived from the Spanish term for the town of Bethlehem, it depicts the infant Jesus Christ in the manger, surrounded by the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, the shepherds, their flock, the Magi, angels and some stable animals.

Belens can be seen in homes, churches, schools and even in office buildings. Belen in office buildings can be extravagant, using different materials for the figures and lavishly decorated with Christmas lights, parols (lanterns), and painted background scenery. A popular outdoor belen in Metro Manila is at the COD building in Cubao, Quezon City which attracted crowds during the Christmas season some decades ago. In 2003, the COD’s belen was transferred to the Greenhills Shopping Center in San Juan when the COD building closed down. The Greenhills belen is a light-and-sound presentation with the Nativity story recorded and played repeatedly to synchronise with animated the figures. Each year, the company changes the theme, with variations such as a fairground story or the journeys of Santa Claus.

Tarlac City is also known as the “Belen Capital of the Philippines” and holds the annual “Belenismo sa Tarlac.”  The event features a belen making contest and attracts the participation of commercial establishments and Tarlac residents. Giant versions of the belen with different themes are displayed by stores and on the streets of Tarlac during the Christmas season (Excerpted from Wikipedia).

Mabuhay ang Pinoy Belen!

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#352 Karoling

Karoling (carolling) takes a special meaning and atmosphere in Philippine Christmas and is among the well-loved Christmas traditions that is being enthusiastically practiced every year by people of all ages.

From professional choirs, singing groups, music bands to little children, every Filipino must have experienced or witnessed the joy of karoling. In schools, student choirs form special karoling teams to perform on Christmas to generate funds for school or charity projects. In hospitals, carollers are welcomed to bring cheer, and at shopping malls Christmas songs echo from enthusiastic carollers to add a little festivity and cheer to the holiday season.

And for little children a spontaneously formed karoling team will sing at your doorstep with expectations for a treat or pamasko, similar to the Halloween ‘trick or treat,” except that this time no nasty trick should be dispensed.  With hand-made or recycled drums (milk cans), bells and other ‘music instruments’  such as ‘tansan’ tambourines (made of flattened softdrink bottle caps)  these kids can be quite resourceful and determined.  They would expectantly wait for homeowners to reward them with coins and if rewarded would express their thanks by singing “Thank you, thank you, ang babait ninyo (you are so kind), thank you!”  But if homeowners won’t give anything or ignore them, the children would sing, “Thank you, thank you.  Ang babarat ninyo (you are so miserly)!”

But whether it be a professional choir or a ragtag group of children carollers, Pinoy Christmas retains its special spirit and nostalgia to bring cheer to everyone. 

Long live Philippine Christmas traditions!

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