Christmas is famously a special affair at the Manila Peninsula lobby. There’s nothing like stepping onto its carpeted floors and be greeted by its classical interiors as the mezzanine musicians serenade guests with holiday tunes. Regulars know all about the yearly tree-lighting ceremony—the Makati hotel, after all, always comes up with one of the tallest, most decorated trees in the city, everyone’s favorite photo backdrop.
This year, the tree-lighting took place on the eve of the easing of quarantine restrictions in Metro Manila, signaling a—fingers crossed—merry Christmas season indeed. The tree is 45-ft tall and took a week to install—the result of a year-long planning process. Built with reusable materials, it is decorated with six holiday characters—the Nutcracker, Gingerbread Man, Robin, a Christmas reindeer, Santa, and the Peninsula page—all brought to life by more than 3,000 LED lights.
There’s expectedly a sentimental touch to the hotel’s festive decor this year, not only because the world continues to battle a pandemic but also because the Peninsula just celebrated its 45th anniversary; its first Christmas tree was lighted December 1976.
It’s just fitting then that there’s a strong homegrown element in the overall setup, in the form of 75 bamboo-and-abaca parols mounted on bamboo poles. They are by lighting, accessories and interior designer Mark Wilson of Caro Wilson, and handmade by artisans from Baguio and Sorsogon. The sinamay and gumon parols are scattered throughout the Pen lobby and upper lobby, adding to the illusion that hotel guests are dining under the stars.
“Sadness was the impetus for my new collection of parols,” says Wilson who is now also partly based in Baguio. “Christmas 2020 was the saddest Christmas ever for me. Everything I loved about Christmas was taken away: live Christmas carols, midnight service, the family luncheon at my aunt and uncle’s house, hugs and kisses from loved ones, and seeing my son, who chose not to travel. So when January 2021 rolled around, I found myself foolishly optimistic that 2021 would be better. It was the vaccine. The vaccine would make it all better!”
This foolish optimism made Wilson think of the humble Filipino Christmas lantern, or parol—parols being a symbol of hope.
The designer was so inspired he started working on a collection in January. “I thought a muted palatte would be most appropriate — nothing too cheery — what if in fact the pandemic wasn’t fading away?” Wilson knew he was staying away from yellows, but that red was a good idea. “But serious reds, with lots of black in them,” he tells ANCX. “A blue parol — to acknowledge our pandemic blues. And a black parol, somber and elegant. My fashion friends would like that.”
Wilson’s parols, like the spaces he conjures and the accessories he makes, have their own unique personality. While parols are usually lit from within, hence their translucent coverings, Wilson’s lanterns are “transparent and gossamer — and delicate, like my frame of mind in this wretched pandemic!”
Wilson was supposed to have an exhibition last July—he was going to call it “I Need A Little Christmas Now,” like that song from “Auntie Mame.” He was going to show his parols then so those interested can order and he can have the starry objects ready for delivery by October, which is when Pinoys usually begin to install their Christmas trimmings.
But life had other plans.
“Contrary to my misplaced initial January optimism, we went through a long tag-araw and tag-ulan of scary Delta variant that made 2021 even worse than 2020,” recalls the designer. “The July start date got cancelled a number of times, plunging me back into a dark mood.”
But it seems Wilson is smiling again, and ready to look forward to better days. “In the last quarter of the year, as daily infections decline, it does look like we have turned a corner, doesn’t it?!” he asks in an email message. “Maybe Christmas 2021 really will be better than last.” It should be. It’s already written in Wilson’s stars.