A Christmas Village of Hope that offers exactly that | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

It started out as a personal indulgence. Eighteen years ago, Joji Tugonon set up a miniature Christmas village in her own home in Cebu. It had seven measly pieces.

The following year, she added seven more, building her collection little by little for her own enjoyment. On one trip to the United States, she found so many miniature model pieces that she came home with 30 balikbayan boxes!

Then came the ease of online shopping, such that her once modest holiday village set would eventually grow to 440 pieces, with moving trains and motorized sets, and dozens of miniature vignettes, now worth about P3 million. Tugonon’s husband, Clayton, a Cebu furniture designer and manufacturer, had also come onboard to design the massive little village.

The Tugonons’ elaborate 70-sq-m Christmas Village of Hope, as it has become known, is now on view in a mall setting for the first time at SM City Cebu, unveiled last weekend by the Tugonons with SM Prime Holdings president Hans Sy, and his sister, Elizabeth Sy, president of SM Hotels and Conventions, gracing the event.

“At first, I just did it for my enjoyment, and for my nieces and nephews,” Tugonon recalls. But in 2008, a foundation that supports kids with autism asked if she was willing to receive the kids at her home to view the collection. She said yes. Then someone suggested she bring it to a public venue.

“It has also gotten so big for the house. But for security reasons, we couldn’t receive that many guests in our house,” she recalls.

The general manager of a Cebu hotel read about her collection in a magazine article and offered the hotel as venue. The Tugonons were initially reluctant, but eventually said yes, with one condition: that the setup should have a charity component.

The hotel agreed: Each miniature house and train will be up for “adoption” to benefit children with cancer.

Cancer awareness

Tugonon knows intimately one pediatric cancer patient. The child of their nanny, who lives with them, is afflicted with the disease. Tugonon, who is childless, often accompanied the child to her chemo treatment. It always broke her heart, she says, to see the sick kids in the hospital’s waiting area.

She talked to her husband about her plan to help. He, in turn, arranged a car caravan on New Year’s Day 2008 to raise cancer awareness and funds for Kythe Foundation, a nonprofit organization supporting pediatric cancer patients. Kythe works with 11 government hospitals nationwide.

Clayton Tugonon’s first effort raised P100,000.

In 2009, at Marco Polo Hotel, the couple raised P1.4 million from the Christmas Village. Last year, it was P1.9 million, plus a P5-million donation from Sen. Tito Sotto, who unveiled the mini village.

This year, the couple hopes to raise P2.7 million at its SM venue. Each “house” may be adopted for P5,000; a train/carriage for P20,000. It costs a minimum of P5,000 for a course of chemo per child, Tugonon says.

The individual or corporate donor’s name is identified with a marker. (Call Tugonon at 032-5149899, 032-3163730, 0917-7167705,  0922-8222167, or e-mail [email protected].)  As of writing, only 85 pieces are left for adoption.

When SM City Cebu heard of the Tugonons’ intention to bring the Christmas Village of Hope to a more public venue, it immediately offered to host it at the Northwing Atrium.

“By coincidence, SM City Cebu’s planned holiday theme of a ‘A Magical Christmas’ that had been decided earlier was a good fit for the Christmas Village of Hope centerpiece,” notes Marissa Fernan, vice president of SM Prime Holdings. The concept of the Christmas Village of Hope is the first and the only one among all the SM malls in the country.

While this year’s Christmas Village is the biggest by far for the Tugonons, it took them the quickest to set up, with friends and family volunteering to put the massive showcase together in only six days. One trivia: they required 1,200 bars of Perla detergent bar mixed with 10 gallons of vinegar and 5 kg of salt to create the ersatz snow.

Gift and blessing

At the unveiling attended by the children-beneficiaries, guests were serenaded by the University of Cebu Chorus and the award-winning Mandaue Children and Youth Chorus, which sang SM’s holiday jingle “ChriSMs Bop,” originally performed by YouTube singing sensation Maria Aragon. Cebu’s Double String Quartet also played well-loved Christmas tunes.

“It is both a gift and a blessing that SM City Cebu has been given this opportunity to bring the joy and spirit of the Christmas season through the Christmas Village of Hope,” says Fernan.

“Through it, the thousands of people who come to the mall every day are transported to a wonderful miniature world of houses, buildings, trains and people in a winter setting. For the generous donors, it is an opportunity to share their blessings. To the children, the Village provides the hope of having a normal life.”

“My husband and I sometimes say we should stop buying the pieces,” says Tugonon, who’s in the sugarcane trade. “It can get really expensive. But then we realize that each ‘house’ is equal to the life of one child. That’s how Clayton came up with the figure P5,000; that’s how much it costs to extend one child’s life.”

She adds, “At the end of the day, when you see these children, they make all your hard work seem worth it.”

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