Wednesday, December 24, 2014

*376. A PAGEANT OF BELENS IN GUAGUA

BELENISSIMO! The characters of Bethlehem come to life in this school production which were staple presentations in many Pampanga schools come Christmas time. Dated 1953.

 Christmas in old Guagua, like in all Catholic towns of Pampanga, is centered on the celebration of the birth of Jesus, in a decrepit stable in Bethlehem. The scene is etched in our minds this way: Jesus lying on a manger wrapped in swaddling clothes, His parents, Mary and Joseph standing watch. Around them, the Savior’s first well-wishers: shepherds and their flock, townsfolk, and the three Magis from the East. Above, an Angel hovers mid-air, proclaiming to one and all, “Gloria In Excelsis Deo!”(Glory to God in the Highest). This enduring image of the Nativity has remained with us since time immemorial, perpetuated in art and religious iconography.

Every Christmas, as late as the 1950s, the scene is replicated in many homes in Guagua, where a “belen”—a depiction of the Nativity using miniature figurines—is set up on a table, instead of the usual Christmas tree. More wealthy homes displayed marble, porcelain, wax or celluloid figurines figurines of the Baby Jesus, and all His attendant companions, housed in a constructed wooden stable, complete with real hay and grass. Modest homes were contented with cardboard replicas of these characters.

 Children would often gather around the “Belen” to gaze with wondering eyes on the scene before them. The owner of the house or a family elder would then recount the beautiful story of the Savior’s birth. Today, of course, Christmas stories would include the tales of Santa Claus, Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman! On Christmas Eve, the silent story told by the “Belen” is becomes a moving, living pageant.

An hour before midnight, a re-enactment of the Nativity story begins with the procession of the images of Birhen Maria and San Jose around the town. The procession stops at certain houses in the neighborhood, and a man, representing San Jose, starts to beg the house owner for refuge for his infanticipating wife. His pleadings are expressed in the form of a song. The house owner, enacting the role of a Galilean innkeeper, dismisses them. His refusal for accommodation is also rendered as a song.

 In the next few hours, the two images, followed by their entourage, continue to move from one house to another, where the actor’s implorings are met with the same cold treatment. They finally arrive at the Church, where a stable is found waiting for them. Here, the images are installed—the Virgin and his spouse finally find rest and a roof over their heads. Their arrival signals the beginning of a beautiful Misa Pastoral, or midnight mass, presided by the cura.

 The message of the Belen story, retold every year in Christmas pageants such as this Layunan tradition has never changed—it is one of birth and renewal, of redemption and resolution, of re-dedication to the cause of peace and goodwill. Heartfelt greetings of the Season, and sincere wishes that good health and fortune betide you and your families, throughout the coming years!!

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