Sunday, January 3, 2016

Celebrating the Holidays in Cebu City

“Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to,” so goes a quote attributed to American journalist and author John Ed Pearce. I bet you’d agree this couldn’t be more important during the Christmas season. For many of us Pinoys, it’s a time-honored tradition to be always home for the holidays—an occasion to be with family and friends, a time for bonding, binges, booze sessions, the works.

Aerial view of Fuente Osmeña Circle

More often than not, people who couldn’t make it home for the Christmas season would be filled with sadness and desolation. But not this vagabond. Why? Because I choose not to! Besides, the most wonderful times of the year (Christmas and New Year’s Day) are the most opportune moments for staging my escapades to other places!

For this desk jockey, the long holidays also offer the best time to indulge in “unli-sleeping” to compensate for the many sleepless nights spent eking out a living.

Mind you, celebrating the holidays on my own—away from my comfort zone—has   been a ritual of sorts for me these past ten years or so. But it wasn’t something that came so quick and easy. Breaking away from tradition can be difficult even for someone who has a progressive and devil-may-care approach to life. 

Cebu sizzles at night

The getting away part was quite tough, emotionally, that is. Making the case for those first few absences to the people I love definitely had its fair share of emotionally-charged discussions, complete with histrionics and all. 

Most Pinoy families rarely and openly discuss when it’s time to let go of traditions, but those talks we had in ours surely paved the way for that. Whew, it was a relief that we went through it all!

I guess I’m just lucky that my loved ones understood my reasons—selfish as they may be. In time, they’ve gotten used to celebrating the holidays without me—and just as important, I’ve gotten used to doing things on my own time, pace and whim. So far, I’m enjoying the freedom I have as I make the most out of the holidays away from home.

Cebu's ever-changing cityscape

This year, I opted to get away from it all and spend my Christmas vacay in the loveliest city in the Visayas—where else but Cebu! The city has long been regarded as one of the  best destinations for spending the long holidays in the country. 
(By the way, feel free to go over my older posts about Cebu at,; and

Here then are the five happiest moments I had while exploring the Queen City of the South during the most wonderful times of the year:

The gigantic Christmas tree at Fuente Osmeña Circle 

Gazing at the giant Christmas Tree at Fuente Osmeña Circle. Through the years, the lighting of the biggest Christmas tree in the city signals the start of the month-long celebration for Christmas. Standing over a hundred feet right smack in the heart of downtown Cebu, the spectacular tree, replete with colorful lights and decors, never fails to dazzle both locals and visitors alike. 

Fuente Osmeña Circle at night

Strolling at the popular landmark, I felt like a kid once again while gazing at the glittering tree. Geez, whatta a vision! I also noticed a huge icon of one of Cebu’s popular symbols, the Santo Niño (Holy Child) near the tree’s foundation. It sort of reminded me that Sinulog, Cebu’s most spectacular festival, was just a few days away. 

A glimpse of the rotunda at night

At the start of the holiday season all the way to celebration of Sinulog, the tree is lighted at night, beckoning people to explore Fuente Osmeña Circle to watch and take part in the nightly activities held there. 

Icon of Santo Niño de Cebu at Fuente

Paying a visit to the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño. It’s almost like second-nature for me to drop by this historical shrine. I guess it’s a mortal sin for any first-time visitor to miss out on this all-important landmark in Cebu, even if he’s an unbeliever. The basilica is undoubtedly a must-see—it’s one of the country’s oldest houses of worship. 

Rehabilitation work of the Basilica has been going on for the past two years

Interior of the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño

If  I’m in town, I often go there to pray and bask in the beauty of its amazing architecture. History hounds and art aficionados will be amazed to see the plethora of artworks found at the basilica—paintings, murals, sculptures, icons and what-have-you. At present, it is undergoing rehabilitation following the destruction caused by the strong quake that hit Cebu, Bohol and other nearby islands in 2013.

As the queue wasn’t that long when I came, I joined the crowd who lined up to see the centuries-old statue of the Holy Child. As always, I left the basilica feeling blessed twice over than the previous visit. To make the most out of my sojourn, I lit a candle and said a little prayer.

Christmas lights illuminate the gardens at The Terraces

Enjoying the nightlife at Ayala Center’s The Terraces.  Just a few blocks away from my hotel stands one of the country’s swankiest shopping malls—Ayala Center Cebu—where you can find of one of my favorite hideaways, The Terraces. Opened to the public about eight years ago, the hotspot used to be an ordinary lagoon that was later transformed into a food and beverage strip. 

Bearing the trademark Ayala landscaping and lighting that never fails to draw ohs and ahs from shoppers, The Terraces is surrounded with numerous shops and establishments where people gravitate to savor local or foreign cuisines, sip their favorite booze, strike up a conversation with a friend, snap a selfie, stop for a break after a shopping spree, or simply stare at the amazing Christmas lights.

One of the things I like about The Terraces are its well-manicured gardens and refreshing fountains that conspire to provide visitors a chic yet calming ambiance after a hard day’s grind. Anyone can go there to seek solace from the cares and uncertainties of the world even for just a few minutes.

 A morning stroll at The Terraces can be calming

Roaming around the Philippines’ third largest shopping mall. Later this year, the Sys inaugurated one of their largest malls in the country—SM Seaside City. The humungous shopping complex has an eclectic mix of restaurants, designer shops,  cinemas, entertainment/amusement centers, department store, supermarket and much, much more!
Cebu's picturesque seascape as seen from SM Seaside

What grabbed my attention are the Seaside Tower, a sprawling 148-meter structure with a viewing deck that offers a 360-degree view of Cebu, and the Cube, a huge sculpture made of steel that stands as a symbol of the Cebuano’s strength and stability.  If SM Mall of Asia has the Globe as its iconic landmark, SM Seaside has the Cube to match it.

The Cube


Some of SM Seaside’s other awesome features that caught my fancy include the Sky Park, Children’s Playground, Bowling and Amusement Center, IMAX Theater and the Ice Skating Rink. Believe me, they’ll surely amaze you! 

Picturesque seascape facing SM Seaside

Cebu's Waterfront at Lahug shimmers at night

Spending New Year’s Eve at the Waterfront Hotel. Staying at this posh hotel in the city proved to be the icing on the cake of my recent holiday vacay. Geez, the prestigious hotel and casino that’s one of Cebu’s enduring landmarks was definitely at its finest during that time! I have no regrets spending more than the usual because I enjoyed every minute of my stay there.  

As soon as I stepped inside the hotel, I instantly felt the spirit of Christmas as I laid eyes on the giant Christmas Tree found at the spacious lobby. Standing about ten feet tall, the huge tree was bedecked with different pieces of white crystals, along with glittering silver decors that added pizzazz to it. Of course, I didn’t miss the chance to snap several selfies with the tree! 

Waterfront's Crystal Christmas Tree

Mural of Santo Niño de Cebu at the ceiling of Waterfront Hotel

It was, however, the fireworks display on New Year’s Eve that really made my stay there truly a memorable experience. Coming from a place where fireworks and firecrackers have long been banned, it was something that added zest to my holiday celebration.

Anticipation was almost killing me as I waited for the clock to strike 12. And then midnight finally came. I watched with excitement Cebu’s black skyline burst into a dazzling kaleidoscope of blinding lights and thundering explosions as Cebuanos enthusiastically welcomed the New Year with a big bang! Whew, it was undoubtedly one of my best moments during the holiday season.
A view of Cebu's cityscape from my hotel room

More crystal trees at the Waterfront's Gourmet Walk

For us Filipinos, the long holidays can be such difficult times to be away from family and friends. But as I’ve experienced, it need not be so if you know how—and where. And for the best Christmas or New Year moments, choose wisely your next destination during this most wonderful of seasons. So, if you’re to leave home for the holidays, what’s the wiser choice for a vacay to remember? Definitely, Cebu! :-D