The Manor Camp John Hay Aglow for Christmas

The invitation from good friend Ramon Cabrera, general manager of The Manor Camp John Hay, was to attend their Christmas Tree Ceremonial Lighting. But as the evening fell upon us — and let’s not forget the welcome chill — more than just a tree was illuminated; there were lights, lights and lights everywhere.

The open space was spectacularly aglow — shrubs and bushes, pathways and benches all — and even the tallest pair of Araucaria trees brandished streams of lights cascading down from its peak. To put it into perspective, just for the garden alone, the management utilized exactly 427,560 LED bulbs!

And when we glanced back at the sprawling, curved four-story property from where we stood, the silhouette of the building, its rooftops, and its balconies were lavishly outlined with little ignited lights. It was undoubtedly more than a mere Christmas Tree Lighting.

But that’s getting ahead of our story.

The venue of the affair was the iconic Manor Garden in full bloom, where we were graciously led to white linen tables and chairs with covers, with rustic decor of authentic garlands with silver and golden holiday balls. Joined by six lady friends from Manila, a travel buddy, and three foster kids from the Philippine Military Academy, once we were seated, we noticed a bevy of wait service ready, at their utmost attention.

Across was an honest-to-goodness specially constructed wide stage, where we were serenaded with familiar Yuletide carols by choir teams from the University of Baguio and Saint Louis University.

Finally, the imminent ceremony was led by Camp John Hay Group of Companies chairman Bob Sobrepeña, with Autism Hearts Foundation Philippines board member and spouse Lissa Limson Sobrepeña, joined by Autism Hearts Foundation Philippines board of director Dr. Paulyn Ubial, Camp John Hay Hotel Corporation board of director Peng Perez de Tagle, president, and chief executive officer of John Hay Management Corporation Allan Garcia, and The Manor and The Forest Lodge at Camp John Hay general manager Ramon Cabrera.

After the countdown chorus, the evening’s guests gasped, applauded, cheered, and exclaimed as the surroundings finally shone. Consequently, the once-dim-and-dark night sky likewise sparkled, flashed, and glowed — all aflame — with an extravagant fireworks display, all while the “Joy to the World” hymn blared.

‘It’s the beginning of what is known to be the peak of the peak season here in Camp John Hay. This is the season for family and giving.’

Sobrepena welcomed all the attendees, which consisted of over 300 patrons, and requested to pray for peace. “It’s the beginning of what is known to be the peak of the peak season here in Camp John Hay. This is the season for family and giving,” he continued.

And speaking of giving, going on for several years, Camp John Hay has continually supported Autism Hearts Foundation’s Fashion Arts Autism Benefits. The proceeds of the P2,000-per-plate dinner will be devoted to this advocacy organization’s efforts to assist those living on the autism spectrum to integrate themselves as functioning members of their communities.

One of their thrusts includes art therapy, which they had the opportunity to showcase through handmade ornamental holiday pieces, available for purchase, prominently displayed on yet another Christmas Trees by the fireplace for the long season.

Together, they likewise unveiled a Cordillera-inspired mural entitled Elkat: An Enchanted Forest, which features flora endemic to Baguio City, a river, and the mysterious creatures that live within the forest. It is a collaboration among Lan Jones Almazan, Talek Jose Ilagan, Andrei Nisperos, Emarnel Pasana, Leila Michelle Reyes, Paulo Brent Ricardo, Keefe-Everett Sebio, Jhomir Shontogan and Justin Raymond Zambrano.

Given the fantastic show, the evening was far from over. In comes a procession from Le Chef at The Manor of the famed ahead-of-his-times kitchen whiz chef Billy King.

The appetizer consisted of a Maki Combination with Norwegian Air-flown Salmon Sashimi. At the same time, the main course was Roast Prime Black Angus Beef with Cognac Pepper Sauce and Vegetable Gratin Dauphinoise. Dessert was a sweet but not-too-sweet Belgian Truffle Ganache with Mango Compote and Raspberry Sauce. Each dish was exquisitely plated, and the explosion of flavors was something to write home about.

While we had dinner at our own pace, over 200 entertainers participated in the festivities with their very own performances. There were several dance groups, from tribal to ballet, two lady torch singers, while the AMG Band played Glenn Miller-type yet modern songs reminiscent of the old band feel of yesteryears. They eventually switched to hummable and danceable tunes, and before you knew it, everybody squeezed on the dance floor, while others even stood up on uneven grounds to sway around.

Enter David la Sol, a Baguio-based Ilonggo singer-songwriter, with his rendition of the hit Coldplay song “A Sky Full of Stars.” Simultaneously, the audience was handed blue light sticks waved into the air as the mellow tunes enveloped the grounds. What a way to end the program — make that a celebration.

With the thought of retiring for the night, I paced around the hotel, and what caught my eye were the decors everywhere — from the vast hearth fireplace, Santas of all shapes and sizes, wreaths of all colors, bells, and ribbons, and even a golden deer. Through osmosis, they spread infectious cheery mood.

Once I entered the room, I drew my drapes, opened the sliding doors, was greeted by the chilly Baguio breeze, and, from a distance, relished the lights and replayed the music in my mind.