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Remember the Christmas Display at COD? It's Back.

The COD Christmas display is now coming home to Cubao.
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As a child growing up in Quezon City, one of the highlights of every Christmas was the annual family trip to the Manila COD Department store to watch the display on the facade of the department store. Each year, they came out with a different theme, and I still remember gazing up to see what wonder they had conjured up for the season. 

The crowd would gather and chatter as we all tried to find the best position to catch the show—which, every child knew, was on dad’s shoulders. The murmurs would die down when the music cranked up, only to swell into a cheer as the animatronic figures started to move.

IMAGE: courtesy of Araneta Center

IMAGE: courtesy of Araneta Center

The Manila COD reflected popular Christmas themes and was a popular holiday activity, from its original Araneta location up to its relocation in Greenhills. IMAGE: courtesy of Araneta Center

In my hazy recollections, some of the highlights I remember was Santa getting into a rocketship to deliver his gifts; another year when the display retold the story of the little drummer boy and the Three Kings; and a Filipino fiesta-themed scene that had the audience gasping as one of the boys slid down a palo sebo. 

After each show, the crowd would disperse, happy at having celebrated yet another year of this Christmas tradition. When COD closed for good in 2002, the display was adopted by Greenhills Shopping Centre—which was nice, but it just wasn't the same.

The good news is that the yearly spectacle is coming back to Araneta Center this year. It will be located at the same area where their giant 100-foot Christmas tree will be lit up for the season—the construction has been hidden in plain sight, we were told, as construction is ongoing with people simply passing it off as another part of the Christmas tree display.

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Sentimental journey

The Christmas On Display show was the brainchild of Alex Rosario, Sr. founder of the Manila C.O.D., who started the magical display of life-sized moving mannequins to catch the attention of passing customers back in 1954. The first display wasn't even Christmas themed: It depicted a belly dancer, and was crudely made of plaster of paris and used a simple motor from an electric fan. But the display was a hit, and so the next year they began with their Christmas displays. It was when the department store moved to the Araneta Center in 1966 that it gained popularity.

They built the workshop themselves, hiring carpenters, masons, mannequin makers and dressmakers to manufacture the moving displays. The senior Rosario would often go there when things got too hectic at his office. “It was his happy place,” says Alex's son Rey Rosario, the CEO and president of Rosario Animated Display.

It is, in many ways, a family enterprise. Today, many of the workers are the second generation of their first employees, still crafting the animatronics with the same care and cheer their parents did. One of their oldest employees is Jess Olivarez, their resident artist. “Up to now, we don’t use the computerized architectural renderings. Jess draws the schematics by hand, and all the workers, because they have been with us for a long time, already know what to do based on what he has drawn.”

IMAGE: courtesy of Araneta Center

IMAGE: courtesy of Araneta Center

IMAGE: courtesy of Araneta Center

Up to now, COD artists rely on old-fashioned ways to render the display. IMAGE: courtesy of Araneta Center

His late father would be really happy to know that the COD has finally been able to return to its original home. Before he died two years ago, the older Rosario had hoped to restore this decades-old tradition in its birthplace after years of being away.

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After COD closed back in 2002, the Greenhills Commercial Center had offered to be the Christmas display’s new venue, for this year, they wanted to make it smaller, and this prompted Rey Rosario to approach the Araneta Center. “I have been wanting to do it for a long time, but we did not know who to talk to,” he revealed.

This is why it makes this year’s theme of “Christmas Comes Home” really reflective of the full-circle journey of this beloved tradition. The storyline, by the way, will revolve around a family that returns to the Philippines to visit and by revisiting their roots and traditions, realize that there is no place like home.

Araneta Group Vice Chairman Mrs. Judy A. Roxas says that she is personally very touched that the COD is coming back to the center. “It is like coming home for them. With this Christmas celebration, we are happy and proud that this year this beautiful animated display will be here once again. I am very sure that many who grew up here share this joy with many children who have been coming here every year in the past can now share them with their own families.”

More holiday attractions

Antonio Mardo, Araneta Group Senior Vice President for Operations says that the holiday season will usher in many activities at the Center. Aside from the COD animated display and the Christmas Tree Lighting event on November 16, the Smart Araneta Coliseum will also hold for the holiday extravaganza Magic on Ice that combines circus acts, figure skating, magic, and grand illusions from December 25, 2018 to January 1, 2019.

The Christmas On Display shows will run from November 23 to January 6, 2019 at the Times Square Food Park, located at the corner of Times Square and Gen Roxas Avenues, Araneta Center, Quezon City. Slated to start each night at around 6pm, each show runs for about 20 minutes with 15-minute intervals.

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IMAGE: courtesy of Araneta Center

IMAGE: courtesy of Araneta Center

IMAGE: courtesy of Araneta Center

For more information about the show visit the official Araneta Center Facebook page.

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