PASKUHAN VILLAGE: Christmas nostalgia and Manila-style marketplace
By Beatrice Paez
An intense frenzy of people, angelic choral performances, inventive parol designs and earsplitting announcements for raffle draws, were the sights and sounds of the Paskuhan Village, the first of its kind in Toronto. Held deep in the basement of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on December 1, it was a family affair: bringing different generations under one roof and drawing about 5,000 people.
The organizers wanted to capture and replicate the spirit and tradition of Christmastime in the Philippines for the nostalgic, homesick and younger generations that have missed out on the experience.
“There was the panunuluyan, which is a Christmas tradition that we wanted to introduce to the younger generation and of course, remind the others,” said Rosary Escano, the Marketing and Communications coordinator of the event.
With the cost of renting a spot ranging from $345 to $500, more than 150 vendors were on site offering up an array of goods and services, from chicharon to a stall for sending remittances. The hall was transformed into a little Manila style marketplace, replete with accessories and sugary confections or kakanin, reminiscent of the tiangge that is ubiquitous in many parts of the city.
“Almost all of our booths highlight trying to have connections back home,” said Marco Amoranto, the Managing Director of ABS CBN Canada. “People send a lot of money back home for Christmas, so there’s a lot of remittance services here.”
Several enterprising Filipinos set up shop at the market, among them was the team behind Canoi, a website and app directory for locating Filipino events and businesses, and Pinoy Culture, an online bookstore featuring Tagalog-English books for children.
For many Filipinos, Christmas time is as much about the food as it is about extended families and friends coming together to celebrate Jesus’s birth.
Many of the people in attendance were in search of their favourite treats: the Philippine Ambassador to Canada, Leslie Gatan said he was on the lookout for puto bumbong, while Vanessa, a young girl who traveled with her family from Ottawa, couldn’t get enough of the bibingka.
The only thing that was missing for the Consul General, Junever Mahilum-West was the dawn mass that marks the occasion leading up to Christmas, celebrated from December 16 to 24. “This is a very good representation of how Christmas is celebrated in the Philippines,” she told The Philippine Reporter. “However, in the Philippines we have the Misa de Gallo, which is the early dawn mass, and right now we cannot replicate that here.”
The dizzyingly long line-ups did not dampen people’s spirits, who braved the wait for a chance to win a round trip ticket to Manila, as part of the passport style raffle contest.
With six free tickets to Manila up for grabs, raffle ticket holders had to make the rounds to 12 different vendors, and traded in their personal details — name, number and email address, all to cast their names in the pool of prize contenders.
The program line-up featured a choral competition with entries from various church choirs, a parol competition, tinikling, kuntaw or Filipino martial arts number and guest appearances by several stars of ABS CBN.
Most of the parols competing for first place (and a $1,000 cash prize) took on the theme of environmentalism, recycling materials and objects to create their lantern. It was Angelie Tecson’s Superstar ng Pasko parol, a glittery lantern with an angel at the centre that took the title.
Venus Regalado, who came with her family, said it was the music, more than anything that brought her to the event and was happy that the songs put her in the mood for Christmas. “I didn’t come here for the bazaar, only to hear tagalog songs,” she said. “But I wish it was more organized. By the time you get to the food section, all the selection was gone. I don’t think they anticipated how many people were coming.”
But for some, the Paskuhan Village was a disappointment.
Miles Balmes, who tagged along with friends, had hoped the parols would be prominently displayed and that there would be a continuous stream of entertainment, for those that can only spare a couple of hours. “I was looking for something a bit more on the traditional side, because that’s really something that I miss not having gone home for some time,” said Balmes. “I wanted to see something that would connect me to my roots.”
Others had expected to see handicrafts representative of the diversity of regions in the Philippines or works from local Filipino-Canadian artists. “I don’t know if there are a lot [of artists in Canada], but we did try to search for them. When you go home to the Philippines, people go to the tiangge, and they don’t necessarily sell traditional handicrafts,” said Escano.
Ronnie dela Gana of Tahanan, who hosted the event, said they hope next year will be more collaborative, and attract a broader diversity of community partners.
While the organizers are tight lipped about the size of their budget and are still crunching numbers, they suspect they have recovered more than the costs because of the overwhelming turnout.
They promise that next year will be a “better, bolder, and bigger” gathering.