Friday, December 26, 2014

The Parol

Filipinos have their own version of the Chrismas lantern: the "parol." Its root word, "farol," means "lantern" in Spanish.

A giant parol from San Fernando's annual lantern festival. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
A star-shaped lantern hung from the eaves or windows of a home, the parol came to be in 1908. Francisco Estanislao, a salt vendor from Pampanga, made the first star-shaped parol with a bamboo framework that he covered with "papel de japon" or Japanese paper. A candle was used to light it up from the inside. 

Initially, people from the barrio used the parol to light their procession to the church for "Simbang Gabi," or Misa de Gallo, held at 4 in the morning. Eventually, the parol turned into an outdoor ornament to herald the start of the Yuletide festivities. It evolved through the ages, from its simple, rustic blueprint to various permutations that innovated with design and materials. From simple parols made out of plastic bags, to elegant constructions crafted from Capiz shells, to fiberglass, to gaudy sunbursts of ornate design and riot of color, the parol, to date, stands as an iconic Filipino innovation, tradition, expression, and celebration of the season.

Festivals and parades are held to celebrate the parol. Pampanga, from which the parol originated, is among the primary manufacturers of the lantern. Every December, on the Saturday before Christmas Eve, the City of San Fernando in Pampanga hosts the "Giant Lantern Festival," a grand competition that pits giant lanterns made by local towns or "barangays." Spanning 20 to 40 feet, the lanterns are illuminated by lights that blink in time with the music.

The parol has come to other shores as well, notably in countries with large Filipino or OFW communities. Honolulu, Hawaii held their first parol festival in 2012, and giant lanterns have been shipped off to Philippine embassies in the past, among them the embassies in Poland, Thailand, Singapore, Moscow, Ireland, Beijing, and Ottawa, Canada.


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