IN PHOTOS: At Christmas, this PH city glows bright with stunning lights
How would you like to travel the world while enjoying the holiday season’s lights and colors? At this laid-back city in Northern Mindanao known as the Christmas Symbols Capital of the Philippines, you get a passport to be filled with country stamps when you visit famous landmarks adorned with Christmas lights and colors, like Trevi Fountain in Rome, and the Statue of Liberty in New York.
Every year for the entire month of December until the first week of January, Tangub City in the province of Misamis Occidental comes alive with its Christmas Symbols Festival. The plaza and nearby areas are aglow with Christmas lights, colors and structures exhibiting the year’s theme.
As with this Christmas, the theme for the past two years has also been “Christmas Around The World,” with different country landmarks featured each year. Barangays, schools, businesses, and other groups which design and put up the landmarks compete for the top prize, as this holiday festival is one big contest for the most beautiful Christmas display.
The standards are very high, as there are three rounds of judging – with a different set of judges on each round – throughout the festival.
But the competition – and the abundantly bright displays – are not just confined at the city center, but extends throughout Tangub. A short walk to the plaza in front of the city’s church would give the visitor a visual treat of flashing lanterns (this year, one of the more colorful ones even has musical accompaniment). (RELATED: IN PHOTOS: Christmas village in Gonzaga, Cagayan)
And, even upon entering Tangub, expect to be greeted with welcoming arches, all decorated according to the year’s Christmas Around The World theme, as you pass by each barangay. If you take a tour around the city’s barangays, you will find arches like the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and the London Bridge.
Also expect some of the brightest houses in some areas, as there is also a contest for most well-lighted house, as well as of the most well-lighted barangay. Even business establishments like banks have their own contest. The public market also has a contest for the most well-lighted section.
You can easily find Christmas almost everywhere when night falls in Tangub City. The festival kicks off with an opening ceremony, performances, and fireworks every December 1.
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For all its pageantry, though, the festival has humble beginnings.
The festival was inspired by a Christmas 22 years ago, when the mayor’s wife, who grew up in General Santos and studied in Cebu, felt lonely on her first Christmas in Tangub. “It was quiet, and there were no Christmas lights in the plaza,” recalls Jennifer Wee-Tan, who was used to the lights and noise in the cities she lived in previously.
Her husband Philip Tan, then and current mayor, enlisted his staff, and they built a Christmas tree from dried banana leaves and other natural materials and placed it on the city’s plaza. She felt cheerier after that, then, unexpectedly, things started to happen – families came and gathered around the Christmas tree, and vendors also peddled wares.
“They were all drawn to the Christmas tree,” Wee-Tan says in wonder. “It was as though the plaza came alive when the Christmas tree was placed there.”
Together with the barangays, schools, and other establishments, the local government organized the Christmas Symbols Festival. At first, there was no theme.
“We just asked them (contest participants) to show how they would symbolize Christmas,” Wee-Tan says. “So, for some, Christmas meant a bountiful harvest.” Tangub is in fact known for its agricultural resources like rice and corn. In fact, the city is named after “tangkub,” a rice basket made of bark and rattan strips.
Even now, the Christmas displays are made of natural materials like rice husks and corn, and even recycled materials like softdrink bottles and CDs. A constant theme in the contest displays in the city plaza, too, is the presence of popular Christmas symbols like the belen (Nativity display), Christmas tree, and star.
The festival gradually grew and expanded to competitions and displays including business establishments and the public market, and later introduced the “Christmas Around The World” theme. It attracted crowds from neighboring cities like Ozamiz and Pagadian, and even farther cities like Cagayan de Oro.
Since the festival started, Wee-Tan cannot recall a single lonely Christmas. Now, Tangub and its visitors share in the joy that has been multiplied many times over.
If you would like to visit the Christmas Symbols Festival year, the lights are on at the Christmas Symbols Festival every evening until midnight, and up to January 10.
How to get to Tangub City: Take a flight to Ozamiz in Misamis Occidental. Tangub City is around 30 minutes away by bus.