I remember going to see Manila C.O.D only once. There, perched on a ledge jutting out from the C.O.D. Department Store, was a sleigh that moved on a track that went out and behind a classic Christmas scene: a Santa, gifts, some elves. I’m sure it was all quite spectacular to my young eyes, but much of Life with a capital L has happened since, and dulled the memory. Who knows? Maybe my parents took us more than once. Maybe there was no sleigh. Maybe I’m only imagining it now, 40 years hence.
For people less jaded and forgetful than I, seeing the Manila C.O.D. Christmas display will always be a fond part of their childhood
For people less jaded and forgetful than I, seeing the Manila C.O.D. Christmas display will always be a fond part of their childhood. And they will be happy to know that Araneta Center, by which the developed parts of Cubao commercial and business district go now, has brought back this tradition.
The first moving tableaux was first mounted in 1962, according to Rey Rosario, president of Rosario Animated Display, and son of Alex Rosario Sr., the original creator of Manila C.O.D. “His main purpose was to gather a crowd in front of the department store because they couldn’t afford media or anything,” he says.
But the display ceased to be mounted in 2002, around the time Araneta Center was undergoing a re-haul. Gateway Mall was being built, C.O.D. Department Store was closing down, much of the environs were losing their luster, and people started going to Greenhills to watch the display there instead. But it was to Araneta Center that the Rosarios’ hearts belonged.
“Actually, even when C.O.D. closed down, he wanted to leave this display with Araneta Center,” says Rey in Filipino. “I’ve always wanted to bring it back, I just didn’t know whom to approach. But this year, I tried again and they said yes. I’m very happy it’s back. It’s a very nice feeling. Araneta Center has always been home to us.”
Now called “Christmas on Display,” the animatronic exhibition can be seen at Times Square Food Park at the corner of Times Square and Gen. Roxas Avenues, a stone’s throw away from its original location. Like its precursor, it tells a heartwarming Christmas story. This year, it’s “Christmas Comes Home” — a parallel between the display coming back to its birthplace, and a balikbayan family coming back and, well, discovering Strangeville: a shiny and spanking new Araneta Center, an award-winning Gateway Mall, a Novotel, Cyberpark office buildings, a refurbished Ali Mall (one of the oldest malls in the country, named after Muhammad Ali after his win against Joe Frazier in “Thrilla in Manila” in 1975).
Slated to start each night at around 6 p.m. from 23 November until 6 January, each show runs for about 20 minutes with 15-minute breaks.
As the show starts, I look to my left, behind me. The old C.O.D. building is still there; it’s now a Savemore Supermarket. The top three floors are empty, gutted. The top floor, which, in its final years, housed an alternative wellness center, is likewise dark and lonely. Before Manila C.O.D. took its 16-year rest, I spent many days there, discovering my affinity to natural medicines, and with people who could read and feel and certainly care beyond the tangible and material. If I didn’t have a daughter and the need to put food on the table, I would’ve stayed in that magical world. Who knows what I would’ve discovered; but who knows what I may have lost, as well.
Nostalgia is a wonderful thing; but it can sting, too.
Around me are faces aglow with anticipation, young, old, masa and alta sociedad alike. There are whoops and cheers when the display comes on. Laughter and gasps when two mannequins compete in palo sebo, one scrambling up, another dropping and both reaching the top. It may be an old animatronics trick, but it never grows old on the audience.
They are enthralled — like many of us are with a thousand motley things when we are young, and when we continue to see things with fresh, expectant eyes — and that is enough.