A tale of two Christmas villages
For over 20 years, a two-story concrete house helped spread the spirit of Christmas to the young and old in Barangay Luntad in Palo town, Leyte province.
People would troop to the house of the Saboren family every December to marvel at the Christmas decor pieces that had accumulated since the 1980s.
Then Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan) struck Leyte and the rest of Eastern Visayas on Nov. 8, 2013. It did not spare the Saborens’ house in Palo, one of the worst-hit towns in the province.
Winds blew away its entire roof. A portion of a concrete wall collapsed while the ground floor was flooded.
“When Yolanda struck, the house was already decorated. There were Christmas decor and lights all over,” said its owner, Epimaco Saboren, 75.
Almost all of the 500 holiday pieces were destroyed—Santa Claus figures in different sizes, bright-colored candy canes, Christmas villages and several Christmas trees that once transported visitors to dreamworld.
All were imported from the United States, Italy and Germany by Epimaco’s younger brother, Enrico, an American citizen. He started sending them to the family’s ancestral house in Barangay Luntad, home to more than 700 people, in 1986.
In five years, the collection had become so vast that it filled the entire ground floor, measuring 60 square meters.
Enrico, who was once a member of the Philippine Madrigal Singers, decided to open the house to neighbors, especially the children, in 1991 to bring them cheer.
“Without us noticing it, even people coming from Tacloban City and other places in Leyte and even those from Cebu or Davao (cities) who dropped by in Palo, started to visit the house and wanted to see our Christmas decor,” said Rosario Sudario, 70, Epimaco’s younger sister.
Rosario, a widow, and Epimaco, a bachelor, live in the house. Both are retired government workers.
They didn’t mind losing their privacy when they opened their house to the public, from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. every day, since 1991.
The Saborens’ house was later called Christmas Fantasy House and was identified by the municipal government as one of the must-see places to visit during Christmas.
The family would start putting up the decor in October and would be finished by the first week of December.
“We didn’t hire any decorator or designer. We did it ourselves. We just hired three workers from the village to help us put up all the decoration,” Epimaco said.
Eighty to 90 percent of the displays were powered by electricity, he added.
Yolanda laid to waste almost all of the adornments.
“It broke our hearts … . But we could not do anything. Our roofs were blown away. The water flooded the ground floor. At least, we were all safe,” Sudario said.
When the water subsided, they tried to salvage whatever they could. Only a handful were retrieved, including an electric-powered fireplace, several miniature houses in the Christmas villages and a big Santa Claus figure on a rocking chair, which incidentally was the last item sent by Enrico. The figure was still inside a box and in the house of another sibling.
Sudario and Epimaco asked Enrico not to go home to Palo in December 2014 because it was still in disarray. They feared that Enrico would only be depressed seeing all his collections gone.
Enrico relented. “But he told us that he would start to collect again and hopefully, by next Christmas, he will start to send them here,” Sudario said.
The repair of the house is not yet finished, but the the Saborens have decided to display some items, albeit ordinary. “We want to feel the spirit of Christmas,” Sudario said.
Paul Nino Calinao, a 7-year-old resident of Luntad, misses the elaborate show in the house.
“I have been there several times during Christmas and I enjoyed all these visits because of the beautiful and colorful displays. Hopefully, next year, it will become a Christmas house again,” the boy said.
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