Christmas Throwback: Memories of Araneta City’s Christmas on Display

 “The simple gesture of your parents bringing you to Araneta (to watch the Christmas on Display) every Christmas is already a gift,” – comment of netizen JR Niño Patao on Facebook

Who would forget the memorable Christmas on Display of then Araneta Center? It used to be a staple Christmas attraction since it was first staged by the department store Manila COD fifty four years ago in 1966.

People from various walks of life have created fond memories and experiences with it. Families used to enjoy the spectacular displays that depict Yuletide stories. Children were amazed by mechanically animated characters. Many were thrilled as they enjoyed the show along with other traditional Christmas attractions at the old Araneta City.

The staging of this seasonal display stopped in 2002 due to the closure of Manila COD, yet the fun memories of what used to be a Christmas tradition at the heart of the metro remains.

Childhood recollections

In 1966, news came out that Manila COD is about to relocate from Avenida, Manila to Araneta Center. Manila COD was already known for its annual animated Christmas display, so nearby communities – especially children – were thrilled and curious.

Liza Madeja was six years old when her family arranged for a Jeepney to bring them to Araneta Center in 1974. It was her first time to see the COD. Together with her young siblings and cousins, they brought lots of food and wore their holiday dresses. They were all excited to witness the fun-fare.

She was full of awe after her first COD experience. She thought the display’s statues were real people! Since then, it has become her family’s tradition to spend time watching the Christmas display while eating their baon.

“Binubuhat ako ng Tatay ko noon, kasi di ko makita (ang COD). Maraming matatangkad na nasa harap, at maliit pa ako noon. Pag pagod na siya, aakyat na kami sa taas ng jeep at doon manonood habang kumakaen,” Liza shared.

As she and her cousins grew up, they stopped going together in COD. Instead, Liza went there with her peers and friends. Sometimes, when she has an errand in National Bookstore Superbranch (along General Roxas Ave.) for school, she would drop by in COD alone just to watch and enjoy the show.

It was 1987 when Lea Dugenio first watched COD. She and her family were originally from Iloilo, but her parents decided to spend Christmas that year in Quezon City where her father’s sister lived. 

Lea and her siblings had no idea then what the COD was. They had never seen one in the provinces, so they were all amazed by the grandeur and festivity of COD. According to her, that was a Christmas she would never forget.

It was in the same year when Irish Navalta was with her eldest sister, her parents, aunts, and grandparents as they anticipate the opening of the COD. Her mother carried her to see the mannequins dance. She remembered that she jumped with joy as she watched the Palosebo.  It has since become a tradition for her family.

In 1988, Oliver Bacosa was 10 years old when his parents first brought him to watch the spectacle. He watched the moving mannequins with awe and enthusiasm. Every after show, he would eagerly wait again even though the same story would be shown for the whole night. Since then, it has become their annual habit.

 “We have made a tradition to watch the yearly event of COD with the funny puppet plays. We would always think what would be the theme next year, (we anticipate) the meaningful story that COD plays to reflect what Christmas truly means. It’s a yearly event for our family.”

He loved his childhood memories, recalling the festival-filled ambiance of Araneta. His parents would bring him to Fiesta Carnival and watch the Christmas shows. As far as he could remember, Araneta City is a child-friendly place where wonders and fun begin.

Unfortunately, when Araneta Center underwent re-development, the COD was forced to move to a smaller venue. Fewer people watched the show, and children became more interested in other Christmas thrills. This has forced the famed attraction to cease its operations.

“When we’re getting older, the shows were cut-off. We also stopped going to the shows when it relocated. It’s a sad truth for us who have made a tradition watching the yearly event of COD,” Oliver recalled.

Brief resurrection

In 2018, Araneta City set a brighter and merrier Christmas celebration with the return of COD. It was a highly-anticipated event that made a lot of people very happy.

“I was sad when (the) COD closed in 2002. I said paano na yung mga taong nakasanayan na panoorin yan? I mean will there be happiness after that? I told myself na one day babalik sila sa lugar kung saan sila nagstart. That wish came true! In 2018 I was amazed and shocked na babalik na sila sa Araneta!” the now married Irish said.

With the return of Araneta City’s old-time Christmas show, children who grew up in the glory years of the COD were elated with the news. They were eager to once again rekindle the warmth that the COD gives to families and friends.

There was a rush of excitement when Liza heard of the news. She hurried to Times Square Food Park directly from work, hoping to once again experience the nostalgia of the COD. She was struck with the “Christmas is Home” theme that year because, indeed, the well-missed Christmas attraction is back home.

“Six pm pa ang out ko sa office, eh sa Quezon Boulevard pa yun, medyo traffic nun dahil expected mo na maraming manonood ng launch ng COD. Kaya nagout ako ng 5pm pa lang para mapanood ko talaga!”

In this first anticipated night, she decided to go alone without his sons and husband just to catch the opening show. There were a lot of people like her waiting for its launch. Everyone was cheering and eagerly waiting.

Liza Madeja at the Times Square Food Park when COD returned in Araneta City in 2018

Like Liza, Lea and Irish were also in the re-opening of the COD in Araneta City. They all have their own families as well. They remembered how the COD has tightened the bond of their families and how it brought warmth and joy every Christmas. They also want their children to have these good memories that they had as they watch the COD.

“Yung fact na it gives a wonderful experience sa childhood ko (is enough) kaya I’m happy to let my kids experience and see that too. Kaya I’m so glad na nagbalik na dahil now I can let my kids have these happy thought na rin to keep,” Lea said.

Lea brought her daughter at the Times Square Food Park to enjoy at the COD. They took videos and posed for photos at the attraction to keep intact their first memories together watching the COD. She was feeling nostalgic as she remembered her childhood days when she also watched with the performances with her parents.

Lea Dugenio and Family

Meanwhile, Irish was full of warmth as she saw her daughter loving the COD performances. It was like seeing her five-year-old self carried by her mother as she first saw the attraction. They enjoyed the hearty food amidst the energetic crowd and warmth of the Giant Christmas Tree.

Irish Jocson and daughter

“My six-year-old daughter was interested and asked, ‘Ma gusto kong panoorin yan,’ She was scared at first kasi noon scared siya sa mannequins. But when she saw the entire show she was happy and I was crying with happiness at the same time kasi they (COD) are finally home,” Irish added.

While Liza watched the COD launch alone, she decided to do a Facebook live so his sons and relatives can get to watch with her. Her sons saw this live video and got excited to experience the COD first-hand.

“Di ko sinama sa first day yung mga anak ko kasi di ko maabutan yung opening dahil sa dami ng tao and di ko sila mabubuhat. . . Nakita ng mga anak ko ang live ko (in Facebook), nagalit sila sa akin kasi di ko sila sinama,” Liza recalled.

The next day, she returned to the Times Square Food Park with her sons. She was a bit sad because her husband can’t join due to work. But nevertheless, she was happy to see the show with her sons, just as her parents brought her for the first time to see the COD years ago.

Liza's sons at the Times Square Food Park

Her sons were fascinated with the moving characters and were full of applauses as they watched the performances. They loved the Palosebo, the moving caricatures, and even the values they learned with the show. Her sons were eager to watch again the performances as they enjoy dinner under the Giant Christmas Tree.

In 2019, these three women once again came back to watch the COD at the Times Square Food Park in the redeveloped Araneta City. Like the rest of the years, Araneta City aimed to reunite families, ignite warmth and happiness every Christmas.

With the pandemic lingering the world this year, they hope that Araneta City continue to celebrate Christmas fostering comforts and joys. Like them, more fans look forward to the hope given by the Christmas on Display as well as the holiday attractions at the City of Firsts.   


Liza Madeja and family in Times Square Food Park last year

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