An oriental Winter Wonderland in Baguio City

!hola - MJ Marfori - The Philippine Star

Last weekend, I was once again in my favorite happy place, Baguio City. My moms sisters, Tita Jojo and Tita Angie, were visiting from Sacramento and Calgary, respectively, and a trip to the City of Pines was a must for our family.

During our brief vacation, we cherished every moment of our stay at Baguio Country Club (BCC), where we looked forward to the sumptuous breakfast every morning, went on relaxing walks around the picturesque grounds, and breathed the cool mountain air. At night, we enjoyed mouth-watering dinners at Hamada and the verandah, and then playing mahjong in our room while gossiping and reminiscing with my siblings, aunts and mom.

Needless to say, we didnt just stay at BCC the whole time. We took my aunts to lunch in Lemon and Olives one day and drove around Camp John Hay for merienda, and then, to SM Baguio for some shopping.

But there was one attraction that I could simply walk to, and this was BCCs annual “Christmas Villageexperience, right across the street from the country club. Aside from the irresistible shower of fake snow that falls on visitors every 15 minutes or so, the other come-on of the Christmas village is how the area is dressed up. Over the years, the villages “production design” — as it is called by moviemakers — has been inspired by Hollywood hits like Frozen, Game of Thrones, and the Avengers movies. This year, I was especially intrigued because the theme was “Oriental Winter Wonderland.”

With none of my kids to accompany me (this trip was only for adults, who didnt have to worry about school), I joined the loooong queue of parents, children, balikbayans, and Baguio locals that Saturday at around 5 p.m. Like me, they were eager to suspend disbelief and experience the fantasy of being snowed on for an hour or so in our tropical country, to be inside a snow globe without the globe, with soap suds instead of real snow.

As I stood in line, a marshal passed by to ask if anyone was alone. I raised my hand and he approached and asked to see my vaccination card, which is a requirement for entry. When my vax card checked out, he allowed me to move to the head of the line.

Two minutes later, I was in. As promised by the “Orientaltheme, the place had a distinctly Asian feel to it, with Japanese temples and edifices here and there, and cosplayers dressed like samurai and geishas (!) gamely posing for photos. I also noticed a few dressed in what looked like costumes from period Korean dramas like The Moon Embracing The Sun. In another nook, children lined up to pose with Doraemon and other pop culture-animé characters I was too old to know. All throughout the grounds were flowers and trees colored gold, yellow, green and frosty white. Since the snow wasnt falling yet, nearly everyone was walking around looking for something to munch on or on a quest for the most picture-perfect spot. One of the most popular backdrops was, not surprisingly, the cherry blossom tree. Next to the Santa Claus cosplayer, the pink tree was seemingly a “mustfor IG or Facebook photos.

As the sun set and the area became dark, marshalls cleared certain areas for the Nativity story re-enactment. What few lights were on at the time were then turned off, and a hush fell on the crowd. A spotlight was turned on and a male voice began telling the story of Jesusbirth, the white light following the actors portraying Mary, Joseph, and the three wise men as they made their way to the rise that represented the humble space where the Baby Jesus was born. And then, as the wise men presented their gifts and the audience was watching in quiet reverence, hundreds of thousands of led lights came to life, illuminating the entire village.

The crowd gasped in awe as joyful and triumphant Christmas music filled the air and soapy snowflakes started pouring down. Hundreds of mobile phones lit up as teens and adults scrambled to take their precious photos as the snow came down. Minutes later, children were trying to make snowballs out of the suds that had piled up on the ground, while others simply wanted to feel the snow in their hands or against their cheeks. I just took it all in, remembering how much fun my kids Gabbie and Paolo had here years ago when they were much younger. And how sentimental it made me to see parents enjoying the sights, sounds and feels of this holiday treat with their captivated, wide-eyed children.

Thank you, BCC Winter Wonderland, for making the most wonderful time of the year even more enchanting!

(The Oriental Winter Wonderland is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily and will run until Jan. 8, 2023)

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