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Modern Living

Ten sights of Christmas past

CITY SENSE - Paulo Alcazaren - The Philippine Star

Christmas is just around the corner. When we were kids, growing up in what Greater Manila — as the suburbs surrounding Manila were called — we knew the holiday season was in full swing when Christmas displays sprouted up on the then expansive grounds of companies, or on tops or facades of landmark commercial buildings.

Holiday weekends were spent journeying, not to malls, but to the various corners of the metropolis with Christmas displays. These ranged from traditional belens to Disney-type compositions spruced up with faux pine cones, snow and all manner of merry decorations.
Here is a list of 10 of the most popular of displays in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. Check which ones you visited and enjoyed.

COD Department Store – The practice of animated Christmas displays appears to have been a COD legacy. The popular department store started its annual offering at its downtown Manila store. They moved to Cubao in the late 1960s and continued their Christmas displays there. They used the ledge of their international-style multi-story facility, itself an attraction to Metro Manilans that were used to one or two-story shops. COD planned their display for the following year the moment the current one was struck down in January. After COD closed, the old COD hands and a second generation of the display craftsmen continued the innovations for Greenhills Shopping Center and currently the Pasig City Hall plaza.

Ysmael Steel Robot – This was my favorite. A giant robot of steel guarded the large green front yard (actually about the size of a football field) of the Ysmael steel compound on España Extension (now E. Rodriquez). It filled me with boyhood pride that the Philippines was developing actual industrial capabilities to make our own cars and appliances. The robot would take on Christmas garb for the season. The best display was during the height of the space race, when the robot came with a spaceship that could take on a hundred people or so into space. This was all done like today’s modern theme park rides but without the benefit of digital displays. A model of the universe was built in a temporary building that looked like the launch bay of the rocket. After “lift off” windows in the craft opened into the building, which was blackened to simulate space.

Pepsi-Cola, Aurora Avenue – The two big soft drinks manufacturers vied for visitors to their plants come Christmas time. The Pepsi plant was the more modern of the two structures and it had a wide front lawn that could hold an audience. Eventually the Magnolia plant was built beside the old Pepsi plant and that too had Christmas displays. The whole block is now a Robinsons development.

Coca-Cola, Paco – The Coca-Cola bottling plant on Otis, was, like their rival Pepsi, a year-round attraction. Both had glass windows showing thousands of bottles of soft drinks snaking though modern machinery with uniformed workers in caps, masks and gloves, helping in the process. Christmas brought another layer of display. These were mounted on to the building’s façade and was so brightly lit, that the president in Malacañang Palace nearby could see the glow.

Filoil Building – We used to have a big oil company in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Their headquarters in Manila was a modern landmark. The displays regularly featured belens, in keeping with the nationalist bent.

Caltex Building – Not to be outdone by Filoil, Caltex had its own modern building and Christmas displays in Ermita. Heavy shopping traffic in the area brought thousands every day and the displays were a big attraction.

Amon Trading – The new Makati area was another locus of Christmas displays. The ultra modern Amon Trading building on Buendia corner Pasong Tamo was a visible corner. Their displays were seen by motor traffic shuttling in between Manila and the new business district of Makati.

Makati Commercial Center – The ‘60s generation of suburban kids grew up shopping at the Makati Commercial Center. In those days, most of the complex was made up of low buildings with landscaped outdoor malls (by National Artist IP Santos). The commercial center always had a fantastic Christmas display. The Makati Supermart would also have its own concoction for all to see.

International Harvester – We moved from Quezon City to Pasig near Highway 54 in the late ‘60s. The Christmas displays were found in two sites. The first was the International Harvester grounds along Shaw Boulevard. The huge greenery was a perfect setting for belens and compositions for the season. The site still exists but urban development is slowly filling the area up with skyscrapers.

Meralco Building – After my family moved to Baryo Kapitolyo, we would shop in Greenhills and pass by the Meralco compound often. Dad was a senior physician at the company’s Cotton Hospital inside and we often heard Christmas mass there. The Meralco Christmas display had always been bright and showy. I remember they had a contest for a few years running — a guessing game, asking people how many light bulbs were used in their 12-storey-high Christmas tree.
Today, all the malls have their own displays at a scale and using technology unimaginable decades ago. The outdoor settings of old have disappeared or lost to urban expansion but our memories of those Christmases past will never fade.

As children we burn these memories in our internal hard disks forever, since these visits to Christmas displays were always a family affair. Let’s make the memories of our own kids as lasting by enjoying the holidays with them.

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Feedback is welcome. Please e-mail the writer at [email protected].

AMON TRADING

AURORA AVENUE

BUILDING

CHRISTMAS

DISPLAYS

INTERNATIONAL HARVESTER

MAKATI COMMERCIAL CENTER

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