Text & Photo: Kaycie Gayle
The birth of the Giant Lantern Festival
To give emphasis on the importance of Christmas lanterns in the lives of Filipinos, ‘parol‘ making contests are held in different schools and communities. One of the prestigious competitions and events that follows this tradition is ‘Ligligan Parol’ or more commonly known as the Giant Lantern Festival in San Fernando City Pampanga. This festival has become famous as it garnered the attention of Filipinos from all walks of life. The Kapampangan artisans ingenuity gave birth to the first ‘parol’ festival. Francisco Estanislao was recorded to have made the first giant lantern and since 1931, the year when the electricity reached San Fernando this festival this has been celebrated every year, except during the Martial Law years. Since then, this has become an illuminated attraction in the city of San Fernando Pampanga.
A festival and a good community competition
Giant Lantern Festival, is an annual competition where different barangays make lanterns as tall as 20 feet. It exhibits a handful of giant lanterns from different barangays that compete side by side. It is usually held in the second week of Saturday of December, which is mostly either earlier or on the 16th day of the month.
This competition is centered on the play of light and music. Every participant must make sure that their ‘parol’ is equipped with dancing lights that highlight its intricate geometric patterns. There are different rounds for this competition, but the main aim is that the light’s choreography must be in sync with the music and sustain it lighting up till the music ends. The bulbs are controlled by steel drums or rotors with a music box mechanism. And to complete this artwork and operate it, it has to be manned by a lantern maker, a rotor maker, an electrician, and a people to assist hence requires a lot of teamwork.
Glimpse on the Lanterns
If you are not able to catch the main festival but still want to appreciate and see the peak of the Festival of Lights in the Philippines, the giant lanterns will still be on display. You must travel to San Fernando at night from December 16th up to January 6th.
The beauty of this festival is that it reflects community teamwork and cooperation. For a giant lantern to be presented among the festival guests, tons of community effort is needed. While to organize this renowned festival and competition, the city government and community must also work together and provide support for each other. For a few minutes, we are awed by the giant lanterns’ glitter. But behind this beauty is the painstaking effort of Kapampangan artisans. Realizing the hard work and dedication they put into this, makes you realize they all deserve to win. However, these lantern makers just not do it to win, but it to preserve a tradition that has been passed through the generation and to make people be delighted even for a while with the colorful glitters of the Christmas giant lanterns. All of these are kept and behind the scenes to produce a festival that has attracted different people from all over the world.
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Happy Travels! 💛