Starweek Magazine

A Christmas tradition like no other

- Edu Jarque - The Philippine Star

“I open my first Christmas box on the very first night of the last month of the first half of the year,” cryptically declares Raymond Alunan, as we crossed the courtyard toward the former Dizon-Ramos residence, a two-story 1950s house typical of the era, now a lovely pocket museum in Bacolod City.

“Most of our irreplaceable paraphernalia, precious exhibits and valuable displays are safely stored away at a nearby warehouse,” the insightful curator continues. “And on the appointed day – not one day earlier, nor a day later – every first day of June, several meticulously labeled containers are delivered right on schedule.”

For the next several months, Alunan continuously – almost solitarily – unpacks with utmost care the thousands of bits and pieces, one by one. “I only do this as soon as the sun sets everyday when the place is void of guests,” he stresses.

By the time September comes –the start of the ‘Ber’ months – this place unfolds a new festive look, a complete transformation. “Christmas is everywhere, and I mean everywhere – from the ceiling to the floor and the walls in between,” he beams with pride.

With our host Helen Catalpas of the DOT-Western Visayas, our group began our tour of the museum, with familiar carols – remember those that never fail to bring memories of family and love, friends and fun, from well-preserved, long-playing vinyl records featuring singing legends de mis tiempos such as Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Billy Vaughn, The Four Aces and everyone’s favorite, the iconic Ray Conniff and the Ray Conniff Singers – enveloping the air, yet so very softly.

We expected a Santa Claus or two – or make it a dozen or two – for how many variations can one have of the white-bearded jolly old man from the North Pole in his signature red suit, with his distinctive red elf hat, his red sack full of gifts, ready to be pulled by Rudolf, the Red-Nosed Reindeer and his herd?

But no! We were off by a mile or, as they say, worlds away.

But I was glad to be proven wrong, for there was a battalion of St. Nicks of almost every imaginable race and color, in all sorts of shapes and sizes, in respected national attires and even in swim shorts and t-shirts.

There he was – Santa at work, Santa at play, Santa as a chef, Santa as a music maker, Santa on wheels, Santa on parachutes, Santa clinging by the sun and Santa over the moon. There was a Santa doing this, and a Santa doing that. He was everywhere and doing everything imaginable. Well, almost…

We are led to the center of the house, which coincidentally is the heart of the museum as well, where the nativity scene with the Baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph is the center of attraction.

But then again, these crèches – we fondly call them belens – some with shepherds and their sheep, others with the Three Kings bearing gifts, but all with a cow and at times, a horse or even a donkey – have this magic of multiplying themselves, made from locally produced capiz shells and imported beautifully crafted porcelain, clay-based ceramics and artistically molded papier mache, hand-made crochet and hand-blown glass in various compositions and singular poses, from revered antique to classic Victorian, from an interesting retablo to a simple close-open box from American Indians to playful little angels in cosplay.

After whispering a little prayer, Alunan proudly leads us to a Filipiniana belen where la Sagrada Familia donned the barong tagalog and the baro’t saya.

“This is my sentimental favorite,” he claims. “Each of the Tres Reyes is dressed in a bahag from the highlands of Luzon, a camisa chino from the islands of the Visayas and a Muslim attire of a datu from Mindanao.”

To complete the rustic, idyllic scene, domesticated animals, namely, a dog and a carabao, a pig and a rooster, surround the stable. All I could say was Hallelujah. Then my compañeros replied Amen in unison.

What awaited us at the very end of the hall was a massive narra table that could easily seat a dozen – no, make that 20, even though a bit squeezed up yet comfortably so, as Filipino hospitality reigns both in our homes and hearts – members of the family and some of their friends to partake of the sumptuous feast with happiness and laughter.

It was lavishly set up for the annual get together with chinaware by the guildsmen from Canonsburg of Pennsylvania and silver cutlery from Rogers, coveted the world over. These much-loved clan heirlooms were part of the gifts to Raymundo Dizon and the former Hermelinda Ramos on their wedding day in 1937.

Without a doubt the jewel of the museum for the duration of the holiday season which takes over the entire ground floor space – some 250 square meters – is the largest and the most comprehensive, the best laid-out and definitely the prettiest of all the Christmas villages we’ve seen.

We must have gasped rather loudly like curious children taken by surprise, for it was indeed a WOW – a big, big WOW!!!

Then the always on-the-ball Alunan shares the inventory list. “Are you ready for this?” he warns.

“Well, there are five sets of forests distributed throughout the borough, with 142 residences, 28 churches, 94 shops, 11 public office buildings and 77 vehicles, carriages and sledges, and let’s not forget the 366 fully decorated Christmas trees, all lighted up.”

The miniature poblacion boasts of packets of leisure and a number of amusement parks, all offering mobile rides such as 11 sets of trains, five Ferris wheels and three good old merry-go-rounds.

Lastly, the village is inhabited by over 500 men, women and children with their pets, all dressed up for the winter and yet actively pursuing a variety of activities – either alone, in pairs or in a group.

As we take all that in, our appreciative eyes shifting from left to right and left again, from top to bottom and top to bottom once more, we ask Alunan why he painstakingly sacrifices his prized free time each year to religiously put up the display.

His response is simple. “If 84-year-old Bella Rivas Galang, a true lover of the holiday season, tirelessly continues to collect anything that relates to Christmas, I enjoy immensely setting up her collections. I gladly do this for her and for the love of the museum, for after all, isn’t Christmas all about love?”

The Dizon-Ramos Museum Christmas exhibit is open daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. until Jan. 10, 2016. For details, visit the Museum’s Facebook account: [email protected] or call (34) 434-8512.)

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