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‘Christmas Village’ returns in Philippine town

The long-held tradition in Palo town was put on hold after Typhoon Haiyan and during the Covid-19 pandemic
An illuminated house in the Christmas Village in Palo, a town in the central Philippines.

An illuminated house in the Christmas Village in Palo, a town in the central Philippines. (Photo supplied)

Published: December 19, 2023 12:04 PM GMT
Updated: December 20, 2023 03:50 AM GMT

Jessica Logronio takes an evening stroll with her two children around the public plaza, basking in the colorful Christmas lights and decorations that adorn the streets of Palo in the central Philippines.

The 37-year-old mother orders a pork barbecue, rice, other local dishes and soft drinks at a decorated food stall and enjoys dinner with her children while Christmas carols are played in the background. 

A stone-throw away from the public plaza, bells peal inviting people for the daily evening Mass at Our Lord’s Transfiguration Cathedral of Palo. Pope Francis visited the church in 2015, two years after Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated the town.

“Christmas Village” at the town plaza has been a long-held tradition in Palo. However, it was put on hold during the Covid-19 pandemic.

On Dec. 14, Palo Mayor Remedios Petilla reopened the tradition by leading the ceremonial lighting up of the “Christmas Village” in the town plaza, calling it a communal place for locals and visitors.

“Let’s make this holiday season unforgettable together,” Petilla said during the event.

“The Christmas in Palo is rooted in a vision of community unity and festive joy. This cherished celebration has become a symbol of Palo’s dynamic character,” the local government said in a statement.

Logronio has put up some colorful lights and decorations at her home, albeit minimally.

“Personally, the ‘Christmas Village’ has become a very significant Christmas tradition for most Paloanons, the lights and decorations have undeniably lifted spirits,” said Logronio.

Besides, Nativity scenes and other Christmas attractions have been opened to the public in various places on the town’s main thoroughfares.  

A municipal town with a population of over 76,000 in its 33 villages, Palo is the most populous municipality in the Leyte province.

The lights and decorations of the Christmas Village also brighten up those coming home from work, said Palo resident Roben Mathew Monteza, 24.

“The [Christmas] attractions help people to feel relaxed coming from their work,” Monteza who works at a local radio station in neighboring Tacloban city, told UCA News.

“Every time I see the Christmas lights, I feel emotional and satisfied. It brings back my childhood memories,” he said.

Christmas fantasy house

At the Christmas Village in Luntad, locals and visitors are also drawn to the myriad of Christmas toys, lights, collections, and holiday memorabilia displayed inside the private residence of the Saboren family.

In 1991, the family opened their private Christmas collections for public view to share and named it Saboren Christmas Fantasy House.

The collections were from a family member based in the United States, who would send various Christmas items to their home in Palo since the 1980s.

It was temporarily closed after Typhoon Haiyan and reopened in 2016. It was closed again during the pandemic.

Hanzel Saboren posted on the social media site Facebook on Dec. 14, inviting everyone “for a joyful experience” at their place.

“Consider adding a visit to our Christmas house to your holiday traditions,” she wrote.

As visitors crowded Saboren's Christmas house, Logronio and her children had to wait for a long time to get inside.

“There is always a queue. And my kids don’t have enough patience to queue,” Logronio said with a smile.

Sing for the Lord

The musical band, the Rah Rah Rousers, performs regularly at the Palo Cathedral and other church-initiated Christmas activities.

“The Rah Rah Rousers sing regularly on Sundays in the parish. They sing in one of the masses either in the morning or in the evening. They are part of the grand choir of the cathedral,” vicar-general Monsignor Gilbert Urbina of Palo Archdiocese told UCA News.

Band member Fidelino Josol, 55, says that he is happy being part of the church choir.

“Spiritually, whenever we sing in Church, I feel proud knowing that I am praising God twice,” Josol told UCA News, alluding to Saint Augustine's famed quote.

‘Something to look forward to’

14-year-old Samantha Caño relishes Christmas lights, the native food sold at the stalls, and the Christmas caroling during evenings.

“We add decorations like Christmas lights, stockings, and a Christmas tree in our home so we would feel the spirit of Christmas, to ensure our Christmas experience is colorful,” said Caño.

The high school student loves hanging stockings on the Christmas tree. 

“I know my mother would fill the stockings with chocolates,” she said, smiling.

Together with her classmates and friends, Caño would go around the neighborhood for traditional caroling.

“Some people would give us money, but most of the time we do it just for fun,” she says.

The biggest token they got for the evening caroling was 130 pesos, which they used to buy chocolates.

Caño and her friends rush to snap some photos as the public plaza dazzles with multi-colored Christmas lights.

Christmas is an exciting time for 13-year-old Ariane Zielle Advincula.

“Every year my family and I get gifts for friends and relatives. We also let the little kids light and choose the ornaments they want to put on the Christmas tree, then we would take photos for memories and for them to look forward to when they grow up,” Advincula told UCA News.

“Since I was a kid, the thrill of opening gifts is my favorite thing when it is Christmas season. Then I would always try to guess what is inside,” she adds, enthusiastically.

She is also eager to savor her favorite Christmas dishes this year, especially those cooked by her uncles and aunts.

The sisig (chopped pork, onions, and chillies) and Bicol Express (a spicy Filipino stew) are her favorites.

“My family loves beef, so there is always a beef steak. I hope that this year, my aunts will cook carbonara for us,” Advincula adds.

Meanwhile, Monteza says he is excited to return the favor for the sacrifices of his parents as they are preparing for the holiday.

“Before, it was my parents who would take care of Christmas expenses at home. Now that I have a job, I can contribute to the food, gifts, and candies to be given on Christmas day,” he said.

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