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An example of a belen which uses indigenous materials.

Belen is a three-dimensional art depiction of the nativity scene of Jesus Christ. It could be a crèche (a “crib” or “manger” in French) or tableau that represents the infant Jesus in the manger surrounded by Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and their flock, and the Three Wise Men.

During Christmas time, belen are commonly seen in most Catholic and Protestant churches, homes, and buildings. In the Philippines, giant Belen displays have become popular attractions in shopping centers like Araneta Center and Greenhills Shopping Center.



The word belen is a Filipino term derived from the Spanish word for Bethlehem. Two or three-dimensional figures are usually found in a Christian nativity scene. Inside a barn or stable shows the child Jesus lying in a manger while Mary and Joseph watch over him. Oftentimes, the scene includes the Three Wise Men or Magi (with or without their camels), the angels, the shepherds and their flock, a donkey, an ox, and the Star of Bethlehem that led the magi to Jesus' birthplace.


It was St. Francis of Assissi who introduced the three-dimensional nativity scene. According to his biographer Thomas, Assissi first used a straw-filled manger set to serve as an alter for a Christmas Mass. In 1223, he asked his friend Giovanni Velita to make a nativity scene in a cave near Greccio where he served the Christmas Eve mass. Since then, the construction of nativity scenes has become a lasting tradition among Catholic and Protestant countries all over the world including Italy, France, Poland, Spain, Mexico and other parts of Central America. In the Philippines, the tradition was brought by Spanish Franciscans. Thus, the origin of its local name Belen.




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