The Bicol belen, winner of the 2012 Ateneo Belen Park competition
By PAULO ALCAZAREN
BELENS are part of our Christmas tradition in the Philippines. I remember that my grandmother oversaw the composition of a beautiful belen in the living room of our house each year in the ’50s and ’60s. My mom took over that task from the ’70s.
My childhood was also filled with jaunts around the city where Christmas displays — all incorporating belens — were set up.
The COD Department Store was the most famous. There were also popular ones at the old Pepsi plant on Aurora Boulevard and at the Ysmael Steel compound on España Extension (now E Rodriguez).
All these memories prompted me to accept an invitation to judge a Belen Parks contest at the Ateneo de Manila Campus in Loyola Heights. It was also a chance to visit the old campus where I taught for a spell about a decade ago.
The theme for this year’s competition was “Belen Parks,” or how to incorporate belens as part of a park or open space.
The entries were to also use indigenous and recycled materials for the belen. Each belen team also had to theme their creations according to geographical locations in the Philippines. They also had to light the belens for evening display.
I spent a good hour and a half walking around the expansive and lush campus of the Ateneo. The place is much busier now with more traffic and students. I spied their new football pitch (used at the time by the Azkals ... go, Azkals!)
The entries were all creative and inventive. All manner of recycled materials were used, including soda cans, PET bottles, trash bags, tennis cans, used school supplies and food foil wrap.
The 16 teams had spent until late the previous night completing their compositions.
The awards ceremony was held at the iconic Gesu Church (designed by architect Bong Recio). University president Fr Jett Villarin, SJ and VP for administration Fr Nemy Que SJ led the ceremonies.
The second runner-up went to the Central Administration office, whose theme was the National Capital Region. This team was made up of staff of the Office of the President, Office of the VP for Finance and Treasurer, UCPRO, University Press, Ateneo Art Gallery, Central Accounting Office, CPO, Marketing and Property Office, Office of Mission and Identity, Organization Development and Planning, HRMO, and Office of the VP for Basic Education.
They put together a city skyline of recycled materials as the background for a manger scheme. They stated their concept: “Urbanization is the ferryman of progress, but the free trade it nurtures can cloud our humanity … commercialization has gone on to infect everything … and nowhere is it more apparent in the country than in its capital region. … This year, amid the glittering promises of the skyline, perhaps we can search deep within our hearts for the true meaning of Christmas … let us never forget the divine essence of what we are really celebrating.”
The first runner-up prize went to the Ateneo de Manila Grade School with their geographic theme being Northern Mindanao.
They took their cue from the festivals held every year in Malaybalay City, Bukidnon.
The people there have the Kaamulan Festival, celebrating the culture and tradition of seven original ethnic tribal groups: Bukidnon, Higaonon, Talaandig, Manobo, Matigsalug, Tigwahanon and Umayamnon.
The team focused on the headdresses, which are typical for Bukidnons, as accents. For their background they chose to recreate the panika, using its yellow, black and red colors.
The team made use of recycled bamboo poles, vinyl blinds, bottle caps, PET bottles, risograph ink cartridges, plastic cups, olds tarpaulins, plastic spoons and forks, capiz, nylon screen, wires, and parols made by students.
The Holy Family was made from woven wire with accents of leftover capiz shells from the department’s Work Education section.
The top winning entry was from the school’s Central Admin 2 team consisting of staff from the office of the VP for Administration, VP for Social Development, VP for University and Global Relations, ACED, Pathways, GK Ateneo, University Development and Alumni Relations, University Athletics, ITRMO, University Archives, OIR, Upeace, and the API. Their theme was the Bicol region.
The manger scene is set in the foothills of the famous Mayon Volcano, complete with the Cagsawa Ruins in the foreground.
Their Bikolano Nativity scene incorporated regional produce like pili nuts, abaca and chili peppers. The Mayon Volcano was crafted from strips of tarpaulin banners and old streamers, all woven like banig.
The team also used discarded PET bottles to build the ruined tower of Cagsawa. The Star of Bethlehem used was a parol from a past fundraising project, while they fashioned old Blue Eagle gym chairs into shepherds.
The chairs “are an invitation to visitors to sit and enjoy the view of the Ateneo Church of the Gesù, and reflect on the many blessings that we have received both as individuals and as one university community.”
The winning team’s concept clearly painted their inspiration, “the Prince of Peace, the Christ Savior who becomes man on Christmas Day is born to us in the typhoon path and Ring of Fire. Bicol’s geographic location predisposes it intensely to typhoons.
Mayon’s eruptions have repeatedly inflicted disasters on the region. This, in Bicolandia, is the Blessed Nativity, the start of Christendom, where the coconut and pili nut trees have adapted to become resistant to typhoons … Bicolanos (too) constantly adapting to the trials that the environment brings.
The salvation of the soul triumphs over nature’s destruction.”
This has been a trying week for our brothers down south. We are lucky to be spared nature’s wrath here in Metro Manila. Christmas and this seasonal year-end celebration, no matter what your faith is, is a Filipino tradition. The Ateneo continues this tradition, which is ours, too, in the family.
Congratulations to all the Belen teams. – Philippine Star