How this Albay village keeps its Christmas tradition alive with ‘Bulilit Pastores’
ALBAY, Philippines – While Christmas carolling in various parts of the Philippines usually features popular Christmas songs, this Albay Christmas village does it a little differently.
In Legazpi City, young children reenact the birth of Jesus Christ as they sing and dance to the tune of “Pastores-A-Belen,” a Christmas carol composed by national hero Dr. Jose P. Rizal more than a century ago, before Christmas Day.
The performance is called Bulilit Pastores (young shepherds), a spin-off from the age-old and unique Bicol tradition named Pastores, which typically involves male and female adults doing the same routine to commemorate the nativity of Jesus Christ.
It's the Bicolanos' unique way of commemorating Christmas as Pastores dancers interpret the "Pastores-A-Belen" wearing colorful costumes and carrying their elaborately designed arco (arch of flowers) in honor of the biblical shepherds who sang the first Christmas carols.
The performance is traditionally accompanied by string and percussion musicians, while the choreography can be modern or contemporary in type. Historically, it's done a few days before the Misa de Gallo or Simbang Gabi in Legazpi City.
“This is a local tradition performed every Christmas. We are encouraging the parents to bring their kids to this event and show them this colorful local culture and heritage. Let's unite in the preservation of our heritage,” Dorothy Fernandez Colle, provincial tourism officer, said.
Aside from the Pastores, Bicolanos also depict the yuletide season through the “Kagharong,” where performers do a creative reenactment of Saint Joseph and Virgin Mary’s plight as they look for a home in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve.
The provincial government of Albay wants to keep the Pastores alive as part of its unique culture and tradition of rejoicing before Christmas Day. They hope the custom lives on and passes on to the younger generation.
Among its efforts to achieve this is the traditional Bulilit Pastores sing and dance competition, an annual event sponsored by the provincial government of Albay where participants perform interpretative and synchronized dances with their respective “pastores arco.”
As a rule, each team of 12 boys and girls aged 5 to 12 years old is required to perform the traditional “Pastores-A-Belen” song and dance within a 7-minute limit. Succeeding songs and choreography can then be modern or contemporary.
Through the competition, winners can get P30,000 for first prize, P20,000 for second prize, and P10,000 for third prize.
This year, the 3rd season of the Bulilit Pastores was held at the Penaranda Park on December 19.