The history of the 61-year-old Christmas on Display Filipino tradition

November 26, 2018 - 2:41 PM
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COD in Araneta Center
Araneta Center launched the traditional "Christmas on Display" (COD) show that has captivated Filipinos with its life-sized moving mannequins, assorted lights and narratives of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem. (Facebook/The Araneta Center)

Filipinos were ecstatic when Araneta Center brought back the famous “Christmas on Display” (COD) show last Saturday at the Time Square Food Park after being held in Greenhills for 16 years.

The show was attended by famous personalities such as Maine Mendoza, Miss Universe 2018’s Philippine representative Catriona Gray and Miss Globe’s Top 16 finalist Michele Gumabao.

Speculators were also graced with a performance from the Mandaluyong Children’s Choir who sang classic Christmas hits like “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” “Carols of the Bells” and “Sleigh Ride.”

COD’s theme for this year is “Christmas is Home” which highlights the tradition of Filipino families gathering together and coming home to their loved ones during the Yuletide season.

“Gusto na naming umuwi sa bahay namin. ‘Yung storyline, ibang iba ngayon. I think it’s more concentrated sa pagbabalikbayan,” Ral Rosario, the son of COD creator Alex Rosario Sr. said in an interview.

COD’s show can be watched from Sundays to Thursday at 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 6:00 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. until January 6 of 2019

How it all started

The concept of COD was thought of by businessman Alex Rosario Sr. in 1957 who wanted to catch the attention of potential customers by installing life-size moving mannequins in front of the COD Department Store located in Rizal Avenue. 

He initially placed a belly dancer made out of plaster of paris that was operated by a single motor from an electric fan. The initiative became a hit that they started to put Christmas-related displays in the subsequent years.

The department store moved to Araneta Center in 1966 and the displays eventually became popular to the general public.

Rosario Sr. hired carpenters, masons, mannequin makers, dressmakers and artists to make the COD show come alive and reach a grander scale until it became a yearly spectacle for Filipinos.

In 2002, it moved to Greenhills Shopping Center after the COD Department Store ceased its operations. Its displays became less grand but it continued the COD tradition until 2017.

A Filipino Christmas tradition 

COD has always been part of the Filipino Christmas tradition since its inception. Its colorful and grand display echo the Filipinos’ fascination with assorted lights and flashy ornaments that are usually witnessed during Yuletide season.

Various accounts recalling the COD tradition in the past years indicate that it has definitely embedded itself as part of the Filipino lifestyle.

An article published in The Daily Tribune notes how the COD show has “always been a fond part” of people’s childhood because of how Filipino parents would take their children in Cubao to witness “a classic Christmas scene.”

Another article published in Esquire Philippines recalls that an excursion to the COD is an “annual family trip” that the writer considers “one of the highlights of every Christmas” season.

Social media users also attested how COD has always been part of their own Christmas traditions.

Similar to the COD show, different companies and local government units would also put up grand displays of Christmas trees, assorted lights and the nativity scene in anticipation of Christmas.

Samples of this are the Festival of Lights in Ayala Triangle, life-sized tableaus of the nativity scene in Tarlac, the display of assorted lights and Christmas decorations in the city hall of Zamboanga and the “largest Christmas tree” in Davao del Norte, among others.