Historically, the pattern of the first parol was created in 1908 by Francisco Estanislao, an artisan from Pampanga, a province north of the Philippines. According to the David-Quiwa family, one of the master lantern-makers in Pampanga, Estanislao used bamboo strips to create the lantern, pasted papel de japon on it and illuminated it with a kalburo (carbide). Back then, it was used by the locals to light their paths on the way to the Misa de Gallo (dawn Masses).
The look and shape of the parol has evolved through the years. From bamboo sticks, lantern-makers now use other traditional and nontraditional materials such as glass, beads, feathers, plastic, shells, straw, wood and even metals. From a small five-pointed star, the modern parol comes in different sizes and shapes.
Making a parol is a challenging, arduous task. It begins with conceptualizing the design. The maker would visualize how the lights will move, putting much consideration into the materials, the number of workers and the amount of time it will take to finish a design. Once the design has been finalized, he would scale it down using chalk or pencil on the ground. The framers would then trace the pattern with a steel frame, which the welders would put together. The design layout will be done twice –for the front and back of the lantern. Tracing the pattern has to be precise because it is the foundation of the parol.
When the two frames are done, they would put them together, with ample distance between them so there will be enough space for the bulbs and electric wiring. Then, workers would do the socalled kulong where they would put cardboard between the steel frames. This step dictates the shape and design of the lantern. The cardboard will serve as the walls of each lantern compartment, allowing the light to go from one specific place to the next when lit up.
Strips of palara, a special kind of paper, are pasted on each compartment. The idea is for the light to “bounce” inside the compartment, increase the luminance of each bulb.
Next is the preparation of the bulbs. One small parol needs at least 300 bulbs. A medium-sized parol requires at least 500 bulbs, while the large one needs 1,000 bulbs. For 20- feet high lanterns, which are usually displayed during the Giant Lantern Festival in Pampanga, they need 5,000 to 7,000 bulbs.
Most parol-makers recycle the bulbs. Some makers hire out-ofschool children to clean the bulbs who make sure they wipe away all their previous colors. When cleaning is done, each bulb will be tested whether they are still working or not.
One group of workers will prepare the electrical wiring; while another paint the bulbs with colors specified in the design. When the paint on the bulbs has dried, the workers will then install them in the frame.
Following the design faithfully, the maker will place the bulbs in each compartment, making sure the bulbs are connected to specific electrical lines that determine their colors and movements. One misplaced bulb can change the lantern’s light sequence pattern.
When he finishes the bulb installation, the lantern-maker would begin the electrical route, lining up the electrical lines from the generators to the rotor. Considered the “mind of the lantern,” the rotor dictates the “dance” of the lights.
Several workers would cover the face of the lantern with transparent sheets of paper and cutouts and then overlay plastic sheets on top. The plastic sheets serve as protection from strong winds, rains and other harsh environmental elements when it is up and installed.
Parol-making is not easy. But once the parol is lit up, you are rewarded with such a dazzling spectacle.
The best time to see these colorful Christmas decorations is during the Giant Lantern Festival, locally known as Ligligan Parol, held annually on
the Saturday before the Christmas Eve in San Fernando City, Pampanga. Because of its popularity, the city has been dubbed, “The Christmas Capital of the Philippines.”
It is said that the festival was first held in Bacolor which was then the capital of the province. Following the change in the provincial capital, the celebration of the lantern festival was transferred from Bacolor to San Fernando in August 1904. Some said that Ligligan Parol was celebrated right after but others believed it began in 1908.
But whether or not the story is true, one thing is certain: the first lantern festival was held in honor of the late Philippine President Manuel L. Quezon. Legend has it, former President Quezon proclaimed Mount Arayat as a tourist spot during a visit in town. The people of San Fernando held a Christmas lantern contest to mark the occasion. Since then, it has become an annual celebration.
About the author
Glaiza Lee became a writer because she loves being able to escape into imaginary worlds she created through words. But her travels are not limited to make-believe places. In reality, she can rough it out. She loves backpacking to interesting destinations, eating exotic food and experiencing life to the fullest..