IN MANY rural areas in the Philippines, the birth of Jesus Christ is reenacted during Christmas time, which invariably involves dancing and singing. It goes by different names in various provinces, but is practiced more widely in the Bicol Region as “Pastores” as an annual musical event.

Introduced by Spanish priests in the late 1800s, Pastores spread throughout the region and is a regular part of the Yuletide season in the region.

Pastores Bicol depicts the shepherds’ jubilation on the birth of the Christ Child, and features musical groups interpreting “Pastores A Belen” (Shepherds to Bethlehem), a Spanish song composed by national hero Dr. Jose Rizal while in exile in Dapitan.

It is performed by gaily dressed young boys and girls, and accompanied by musicians, usually guitarists and light percussionists.

There are variations in the Pastores Bikol across the region because of its varied cultural influences, indigenous traditions and ethnolinguistic differences. In some versions, carols sung in the vernacular are integrated, thus providing a fusion of Spanish and Bicol motifs.

The late National Artist for Dance Ramon Obusan, founder of the famed Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group and a native of Camarines Norte, created choreography for the song to portray the Bicol folk’s jovial nature.

In the 1970s, Legazpi City-based radio station People’s Broadcasting Network (PBN- DZGB) revived what was then a dying tradition by launching a contest among students and youths. Its role was pivotal as it saturated the airwaves with the Christmas melody, and it became common to see Pastores dancers serenading households and establishments in town centers during the Yuletide, in place of the usual caroling.

Later on, the Department of Tourism-Region V, the Albay Provincial Government and the Legazpi City Government joined the efforts to preserve the tradition.

In 2012, a category for elementary students called the Bulilit Pastores was included to teach the cultural value of the Christmas tradition among children.

This year’s Pastores Bicol was launched at the Peñaranda Park in Legazpi City in conjunction with Albay’s month-long Karangahan Green Christmas Festival which also features a food fair, environmental exhibits, and a host of cultural and entertainment activities.