Christmas Fever rising

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What a week it has been as we rolled up work sleeves to get preparations and arrangements for the coming Christmas Festival — so alluringly called An Enchanting Baguio Christmas — went several notches up. It were as if our working crew — a motley pack of young and not-so-young minds enlisted to think out-of-the-box — had fevered anticipation, hopeful that everything would turn up well at day’s end.

Welcome developments have been coming our way. As some kind of a rabble rouser, in just two or three days of face-up encounters, two corporate sponsors jumped up the bandwagon, obviously relishing the idea of making Christmas in Baguio 2019 a good year-ending partnership. Many others are coming in and expected to list up before month’s end.

Even the Facebook wallsites opened up just a week ago have suddenly erupted online, besieging our harassed finger warriors with inquiries no end. In merely 7 days of posting, the sites have already registered over a thousand tweeters.

People from all walks of life have emerged from their cocooned comfort zones, expressing interest in being involved — volunteer marshals, ushers, utility personnel — no doubt animated by a resurgent passion to be part of something worth being, well, just being a part of. Not to be out-involved, vendors and exhibitors have also conveyed manifest interest to take part, wondering how they can be accommodated in something they couldn’t imagine would rise up in the envisioned Christmas Fair premises.

As the week drew to a close, there was confirmation that the famous Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra has agreed to perform at the kick-off program announcing the calendar of activities for An Enchanting Baguio Christmas, right at the Rose Garden in Burnham Park, alongside the formal opening of the Christmas Fair.
Nothing could perhaps match what a PPO performance can do to give a worthy launch of a Christmas Festival. Yes folks old and young, Baguio is ready, willing and able, to give everyone a memorable treat, an experience worth reliving only in Baguio.

To reiterate the conceptual framework for the Christmas project, we in the Baguio Tourism Council simply wanted to influence the conduct of this year’s Christmas program along the lines of simplicity and elegance that our Co-Chair, Mayor Benjie Magalong, has publicly enunciated. In fact, the BTC’s goal is to align the current tourism program with the 15-point collective core-agenda of the City Government, to wit:

“We will lead in re-shaping our tourism promotion to make it a shared enterprise activity that is all-inclusive, where everyone benefits from tourism. New promotional thrusts will be advanced to propagate a culture of responsible tourism and self-responsibility among tourists, especially in caring for our environment, our culture, our creative arts, folklore and traditions.”

Consequently, the BTC — called upon to lend talent, treasure, and trust —is now pre-positioned to revitalize current tourism programs by creating a thematic mother-umbrella to the activities lined up in celebrating Christmas in Baguio. Thus, as enunciated in its project concept, “there shall be new sets of activities brought to bear on the traditional ones; better ways of planning and executing these activities shall be identified and task-shared with other key stakeholders in the tourism industry.”

The idea is simple: make the Festival revolve around “an enchanting Christmas”, something that is far from the run-of-the-mill festivities, something that entices tourists to experience (over and over again) what a Baguio Christmas is like, in terms of the sights, sounds, songs, dances, and sighs (in terms of nostalgic remembrance) that can only be embraced when in Baguio.

The Baguio Christmas Fair, set to open November 24. This will be a local simulation of the world-famous Christmas Markets staged during the Yuletide season in European countries like Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Italy, and the Netherlands. For closer replication, the Rose Garden at Burnham Park will serve as venue for creatively curated chalets built in clusters of five spread out, not in a single-line formation, but in clusters. To be showcased from these chalets, which are assigned to premium or key sponsors, are high-end exhibits or product/service offers for the best Christmas flavors and Christmas products well patronized for their unique Christmas appeal. Fun-filled family activities are also in store for “village” goers, including crowd-drawing performances, shows, family games and respectable entertainment.

The Baguio Christmas Tree, set to be lighted December 1. A recreated elegantly decked Christmas Tree shall rise from Top of Session Road rotunda, and lighted up beginning December First, to signal the over-a-month long celebration and in synchronized activity with business establishments along Session Road, Magsaysay Avenue, Harrison Road, including the road center-islands, pedestrian overpasses, and the flyover facilities at the BGH rotunda and the Magsaysay-Bokawkan junction.

Christmas Lights, Sounds and Shows. These are spectator-oriented activities that will be staged as part of the Christmas Fair attractions at the Rose Garden and at Burnham Lake. By the skillful use of lights and sounds, Christmas tales of great human interest will be told and re-told, in keeping with the mood of the season. Timeless Christmas stories on film may also be shown during intervals.

Christmas-infused Sports. To add more magical dust to the Christmas vibe, the infusion of sports to the festivities will underscore the Baguio folks’ adoration of their sports heroes who have notched triumphs in their endeavors by dint of simple hard, dedicated work towards excellence. Youth-contributed activities include the Saka Rocker Music and Football Festival, a Barangay Peace Cup, and restrospective exhibit of sports achievements by local sportsmen.

Christmas the barangayan way. These are activities endeavored by the barangays to showcase their best Christmas practices, including enduring traditions that have been passed on from generation to the next. A taste of the Northern and Cordilleran culture rooted from sharing and caring tops of the barangayan activities where families share time and trust with indigent brethren, with seniors left by their lonesome on Christmas time. Gift-giving, a predominant act during Christmas, will headline charity activities for children etc.

AN EXPERIENCE worth repeating with others, this may well serve as the rallying pitch that An Enchanting Baguio Christmas festival seeks to create, build upon, and sustain in more years to come. It is this very experience that the Baguio Tourism Council, reactivated after more than a decade, has opted to face head-on as key stakeholders grapple with on-the-ground realities.

On super-events like Christmas, Panagbenga, and the summertime episodes of city life, tourists come in significant numbers, family-by-family, enticed to take a breather or two on rejuvenating climes uniquely Baguio’s. Land travel has been abbreviated enough for the visitors to be up in the clouds through a relaxing 3-1/2 hour drive through expressways. (Even the Marcos Highway rehab works have been deferred to a later period, no doubt prodded upon by our Mayor.)

On just about any ordinary day, the tourists, much of whom are lowlander compatriots, still come up, admittedly in reduced numbers, but they still do every small chance they have. Without having to be brash about it, let’s be frank:

Yes, dear folks, Baguio, despite the warts and woes of a muddling city life, remains to be a topnotch getaway destination. Our cooling climes, mainly from the only natural air-conditioning system operating nowhere else, are enough to lure them in at the slightest pretense.

The coming Christmas celebration here in Baguio may well offer the “simple yet elegant” insights that can lay the foundation of a midterm and long term tourism plan for an industry crying for attention at this time. The goal is simple and clear: how do we inculcate a tourism brand like Festival Tourism as a way to bring out the best from what Baguio can offer?

To reiterate: far too long have we prepositioned Christmas in Baguio as just the right time for families to reunite, for friendships to be reaffirmed, for relationships to be re-defined in relation to our sense of belonging to each other. And not to forget, our sense of belonging to a chosen deity, regardless whose Supreme Being our faith belongs.

This time around, something is new and innovative, a curated Christmas Market that is well in vogue in European cities, hardly the “tiangge or baratilyo” kind of enterprise that has given trade fairs and exhibitions the undeserved bad name in recent years.

Christmas bargains from well-decked shops adorned as chalets will be the stellar attractions, from roasted chestnuts, delectable cuisine, cosmopolitan beverages, remembrance and souvenir items to branded attires and knick-knacks that make a December appearance worth the preparations we’ve been having.

An over-a-month long celebration, from November 24, 2019 all the way to January 6, 2020, An Enchanting Baguio Christmas promises to be a pulsating panorama of a multi-sensory experience erupting in the crowd-converging places. Let us make the Baguio experience start from a Christmas celebration unlike any other, and uniquely Baguio’s.

Ours is merely a shared effort to initiate something uniquely ours. Make no mistake about it, this is simply the initial step of what is accepted as a long mile of a journey. On long-term, we have to energize the tourism sector in harmony with our natural environment, admitting that the industry can only thrive in an environment whose resources — the mountains, the forest cover, the trees, the water and air bred from these — are well-protected, preserved and nourish enough to secure posterity.

It is infinitely important that everyone recognizes that tourism direction has to be fleshed out now, not just in sensitive consideration to residents’ sentiments, but precisely to keep us in line with global trends now dictating the tempo, style, and substance of tourism initiatives. Strategies that have long been the established norms in plotting tourism drives do need to be re-visited in keeping with the times, made more relevant by pressing environmental needs for protection, conservation, and even regeneration.

That is why it makes absolutely good sense to hear other voices — not just mine and yours — for our city’s tourism campaign to accept fresh initiatives in terms of policy, people, facilities, standards, and events, which is what tourism is all about. Not to mention the economic windfall that happens when tourism flourishes as much as our environment does.

Fortunately, Baguio will always serve as a magnetizing charm anytime, anywhere, a shining example of family-oriented tourism that has been its hallmark all along. Not realizing this at this time is simply neglecting what we can achieve when resources, much more so from environmental, human and institutional considerations, are pooled together in a strategic synergy that sensible leaders are just too willing to adopt and apply.

About time, isn’t it?

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