The Star of Bethlehem served as the Three Kings guide to finding their way to Jesus Christ. Its light, shining bright, led these wise men towards the Savior. Its light, blinking nonstop, helped a promise of love and redemption come to life.
A visit to Policarpio Street in Barangay New Zuniga, Mandaluyong City helps to spark our fascination with the Christmas Star and everything that this season's about. The whole stretch of illuminated street is known for its annual feast of lights. The term "Christmas-y" comes to mind when describing the mood that pervades in this little, merry community.
Walking along this 150-meter holiday attraction, you can see people’s faces glow as they look at the glittering spectacle before them. Mesmerized, the onlookers happily watch as the lights shift from red to blue to green in a joyous dance. The flashing of cameras and the sound of grilled meat sizzling nearby and of children laughing meld perfectly with the Christmas carols being sung by senior citizens serenading neighbors and tourists alike.
Houses of light and joy
Policarpio Street has been exhibiting this festive display of decorations for 20 years. Annually, residents eagerly decorate their homes with Christmas lights, Santa Claus figurines, poinsettias, parols, and faux pine trees as early as November 15. The festival, dubbed as Pasko Pasko Sa Policarpio, has become a popular destination for those who want to get bitten by the Christmas bug.
The street, in fact, is also known as the metro’s “Christmas Village.” Some displays have even become sightseers’ favorites: there’s the House of Light, the House of Santa Claus, and the iconic Belen. The street has been featured hundreds of times on print, online, and on TV. And thousands of people, both from the city and the province, have set foot on this famous lane.
Aside from beautiful embellishments, there are also stalls that sell food, drinks, clothes, stainless steel items, and other knick-knacks perfect for gifts.
Brightest of 'em all
It was the year 1995 when Norma Lim had a bright idea. While sitting at home, decorating her sala along with her family, she thought: “Why don’t we put up decorations outside the house as well?”
They then bought lights, bought garlands, and bought stars, filling up their walls, their gate, the bushes in the garden, and every other nook and cranny they could think of decorating.
As the clock struck 6:30 p.m., Norma excitedly turned on all the switches and watched as her humble abode transformed into an image that resembled a star-filled night sky.
Hers was the first house that enlivened Policarpio Street. Her neighbors then followed suit. One house became two. Two houses became three. And the rest, as they say, is history.
“Nakakatuwa na sumunod yung mga kapitbahay. Halos buong street punung-puno ng ilaw. Yung mga kalapit namin na barangay, nagsisipuntahan dito. Kahit yung mga nasa ibang lugar. Mahirap, mayaman, bata, matanda, lahat sila panay ang pa-picture sa tapat nung mga bahay,” Norma shares.
The main reason she decided to do this? To spread happiness.
“Gusto ko lang na sumaya yung mga tao. Kahit sa simpleng paraan, napapasaya namin ang Pasko nila sa pamamagitan nitong mga Christmas lights at display.”
The stars that line up Policarpio's constellation
The number of bulbs seem to be equivalent to the number of people visiting the street. There are families present (complete with babies on strollers), barkadas with smartphones on hand, kids with tambourines, cute lolos and lolas wearing Christmas hats, cheery vendors, and even foreigners enjoying the fantastic view.
One of Policarpio's avid fans is 72-year-old Aling Marie, who lives in the nearby barangay, just walking distance from the street. Aling Marie has been visiting Policarpio ever since the lights and display show began. She has never missed any of the displays in the last two decades.
“Wala namang ganito sa amin. Kung meron man, simple lang, hindi ganito kagarbo.” Aling Marie says. “Taun-taon kaming bumibisita rito kasama ng mga anak ko. Ngayon nga, apo ko na kasama ko. Minsan, gabi-gabi pa nga kami nandito.”
Aside from regulars ike Aling Marie, a number of visitors also add to the street’s daily human traffic. Paul and his friends, for example, came all the way from Bulacan just to experience the magic that Pasko Pasko sa Policarpio brings.
“Nakikita namin ito sa TV, tsaka sa Instagram," he says. "Dinayo talaga namin para magkapagpa-picture kami. Di naman kami nabigo kasi ang ganda dito.”
But like the stars up in space that eventually collapse and die, change steadily came to the street they used to love.
Dennis, a barangay tanod, witnessed the birth of festivities on Policarpio St. He was 13 years old then. From a mere spectator, he’s now one of Barangay New Zaniga's guardians and the street’s caretaker at night.
He laments the seeming decline of this tourist attraction.
“Dati may mga tiangge pa rito, 1997 yun nagsimula," he recalls. "Pero pinatanggal nila kasi nakakaistorbo na sa kapitbahay. Nagalit yung iba. Tapos, punung-puno rin ng mga sasakyan dito dati, andaming naka-park. Yung tianggian na nakikita ninyo sa may munisipyo? Dito dati yun.”
Interest, he said, started to wane five years ago. From 20 houses, only 10 have lights now. With the dimming of the street, the tiangge also disappeared.
“Syempre, alam mo na, yung iba nagtitipid na. Malaki rin ang nagagastos kasi para dito,” Dennis says.
Despite the slow down in action, people thankfully still come to experience the scene perpetuated by those who carried on with the show.
“Tuwing Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, andaming pa ring tao dito," says Dennis. "Siguro mga 500 per week ang pumupunta rito ngayon. Dati siguro mga 700 to 800 a week, lalo na nung may tiangge pa. Pero kahit na konti na lang ang nakikita, di pa rin naman nauubusan ng tao rito.”
Lights that never go out
Policarpio's Christmas lights have attracted individuals like Aling Marie, Paul, Dennis, and everyone who visits the street because they're reminded of the very star that guided Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthasar. Through the street’s festive vibe, visitors are given a chance to remember the meaning of the holiday season even if they neither have 13th month pay nor a Christmas ham to share with loved ones on Christmas eve.
“Masaya kami na sa simpleng paraan, napapasaya namin ang mga tao," Norma explains. "At least, nararamdaman nila ang presence ni God, ni Jesus. Na kahit na wala silang pera o magagandang decoration sa bahay, nandito naman kami para paramdam na may ilaw, may pag-asa kasi may gumagabay.”
Public viewing on Policarpio Street is open from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.