Students of UP Pampanga showcase their hot air balloon lantern at the 2012 Lantern Parade in UP Diliman
Students of UP Pampanga showcase their hot air balloon lantern at the 2012 Lantern Parade in UP Diliman
Students of UP Pampanga showcase their hot air balloon lantern at the 2012 Lantern Parade in UP Diliman

by Jovianne Figueroa

In the Philippines, a significant reminder of Christmas is the presence of colorful lanterns that are often lit up with various colorful lights in front of houses and buildings. Though we may not be aware, some of the lanterns that we see around us may be the famous Kapampangan capiz lanterns.

Dubbed as the Christmas Capital of the Philippines, the City of San Fernando in Pampanga boasts its outstanding and world-class handcrafted lanterns natively called parol. Christmas is never complete without the dancing and kaleidoscopic lights from parols. These have been a huge part of the Kapampangan heritage for years now that the city has already established a name for itself in the lantern-making industry inside and outside the country.

As Christmas time approaches, the streets of San Fernando becomes a hub of dancing lights and colors as store after store open with their proud parol creations. People from all over the Philippines and even across the globe visit the city to purchase directly from Kapampangan manufacturers, saying this is because of the quality and excellence that Kapampangan parols deliver.

Arnold Manalang, maker and supplier of lanterns say that lantern-making skills have been passed on their family for generations. Their store has been established by his grandfather and ever since, they have continued making lanterns. He says that lantern sales peak at around November as households start decorating their houses for the Yuletide season. Apart from these purchases, they also supply bulk orders from different lantern retailers from different parts of the country and even abroad. Mr. Manalang says that they export their parols to countries like the United States, Canada and Australia.

These lantern-making traditions go way back in 1908 as the barangay of Bacolor held the first ever lantern festival—the Ligligan Parul (The Fight of the Parols). Over the years, as electricity was introduced in San Fernando, the tradition gradually evolved with the size and design of the lanterns manufactured. To this date, one of the tourist attractions in the city is this annual event which is now called the Giant Lantern Festival.

The Giant Lantern Festival reaffirms the city’s excellent lantern industry and is now one of the most looked-forward event by Kapampangans. Every December, each barrio/village enters with an 8-foot giant lantern which exhibits an array of patterns and colors dancing to the music. It takes genius and skill to pull off this marvel because, believe it or not, the interplay of lights and colors that the lanterns exhibit are done manually with 8 rotors and over 3,500 light bulbs. The number of people who put this event in their bucket list manifests in the thousands of visitors who flock to San Fernando to witness the spectacle that the eleven competing lanterns demonstrate year by year.

Outside the city of San Fernando and apart from the Giant Lantern Festival, Kapampangan parols still continue to make a name for the city as various institutions and events showcase the lanterns. Just last month, the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) jump-started

the celebration of the holiday season with the ceremonial lighting of Parul Sampernandu – an exhibit of San Fernando Christmas lanterns. Eric Cruz, head of the CCP Production Design, employed Kapampangan genius in the 8-feet giant lanterns that were displayed in the center. The parols could be visited at the CCP until January 6, 2013.

Not only are Kapampangan parols famous here in the Philippines, but in overseas as well. Apart from exported parols, around 100 lanterns from San Fernando were brought by the Department of Tourism to South Korea in time for the annual Seoul Lantern Festival just last November 14. This is the third year that these parols from Pampanga are showcased at the festival.

Pampangeños who continue to deliver outstanding and world-class parols every year do not only give pride to the Christmas Capital of the Philippines. The hardwork and the brilliance that Kapampangan parol-makers bring pride to the whole Filipino community as they continue to expand influence globally. Now, these parols do not only signify the Kapampangan tradition nor just the Filipino customs during the Yuletide season, but also the top-notch skills of Filipinos that is recognized all over the world.


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