It’s 75 days before Christmas, and I noticed that some department stores in Makati have already started sprucing up their facades with Christmas lights. Starting the season early, but then that is the norm in a country where the year-end holiday season is celebrated the longest in the whole wide world.
I will digress from the usual heavy stuff and focus on Christmas in this article.
The other day, I read an article about how the Intramuros Administration under the Department of Tourism will begin the season by a Christmas tree lighting event on November 18. Many Metro Manilans look forward to the tree lighting ceremony at the Araneta Center, an annual tradition started by the owners of that Quezon City commercial hacienda.
Through the years, they have fashioned a tree using various materials and designs, with the usual claim that it is the country’s tallest tree.
There is hardly any Filipino home that has no Christmas tree for the holidays. Humble though the abode may be, even a small tree with a single strand of decorative lights cheer up the environment, with the kids waiting for the gifts that would surround it as they count the days before these are opened.
But a Christmas tree in Intramuros? The administrators of that walled city (is there one already, by the way?) should be a bit more conversant with its history.
Intramuros was the citadel of our Spanish colonialists, while the Christmas tree came to these islands from the US of A, whose tradition of the tree was in turn influenced by Northern Europe. First adopted as a symbol of the yuletide season by the Germans, the tradition spread first among royalty in neighboring Scandinavia and later to Great Britain. King George III’s German-born wife Charlotte introduced it to Britons in 1800, and Queen Victoria as a child grew up with a Christmas tree in her room. When she later married Prince Albert, her German cousin, the custom became quite widespread.
When the Americans sashayed to Baguio to escape the terrible heat and humidity of our lowlands, and found to their delight that temperate trees grew there through what we now call the Benguet pine, they started pruning tall trees and using the tree tops for Christmas trees. In time, concretization replaced the pine trees of Baguio and the lovely scent that greeted us when we climb Kennon was replaced by noxious fumes. In utter defeat at how they despoiled the environment, Baguio City later built an anomaly—a concrete Christmas tree in the Session Road rotunda to symbolize the desecrated city.
The Spaniards were not Christmas tree practitioners, and kept to the tradition of the “belen,” depicting the birth of Infanta Jesus in a manger. Ubiquitously perched atop the belen was a star, the symbol of Noel, which spelled differently, is the French name for Christmas. For Filipinos thus, the symbols of Christmas or Pasko, from the Spanish “pascua”, became the belen and the star. That star was the origin of what we call the “parol,” which is “farol” or lantern in Spanish.
And how creatively our artisans designed and produced the “parol.” From papel de japon-covered bamboo strips, thence to colored cellophane, to the hardy polyvinyl of later days, to the longer-lasting capiz shells, Filipinos have made the most beautiful Christmas lanterns in the world. Pampangos particularly take pride in how they create the most artistic and the most ingeniously lighted Christmas lanterns in the world. It is in fact one potential export item we can, and should market to various countries.
A giant Christmas tree in Intramuros? Que horror, the doñas and the señoras ought to exclaim.
Perhaps a well-crafted belen at Plaza Roma, and all the streets lit up with Philippine-made parols would be best for Intramuros, which is about the only heritage attraction we have in all of Metro Manila.
And having said that, congratulations are in order for the joint efforts of former DoT Secretary Mon Jimenez, his Intramuros Administrator Marco Sardillo, and his TIEZA administrator Guiller Asido for improving Intramuros extensively during their watch. The redevelopment of Intramuros started with then secretary, now Senator Dick Gordon, thence carried on with meticulously detailed implementation by Sardillo, funded by TIEZA under Asido at the behest of Mon Jimenez.
This is one project that should be continued and seen to fruition by the new secretary, Wanda Teo and whoever she and the president will assign as her support administrators for TIEZA and IA.
But for beginners, please spare Intramuros from a giant Christmas tree this coming holiday season. Get San Fernando artisans to come up with their beautiful giant parols, and get Manila schoolchildren to make small parols for the lampposts and buildings within.
Today is the National Day of Taiwan, the famous Double Ten celebration.
Our felicitations to the people and the government of Taiwan, and its representative in the Philippines, Dr. Gary Song Huan Lin, who heads the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office.