Along with the puto bumbong, bibingka, and the traditional Simbang Gabi, the Parol (Christmas Lantern) is one of the Filipino symbols of Christmas. I remember having seen parols in Cambodia which they also display during their new year but I think the Christmas Lanterns are more associated with Filipinos. The tradition of Parol making has evolved through the years from simple bamboo and paper to a more complicated use of materials and circuitry. And every year, we see the height of Christmas Lantern reach gigantic levels in the province of Pampanga as they celebrate the Annual Ligligan Parol or Giant Lantern Festival.
Imagine a lantern towering up to 40 feet high. A complex kaleidoscope of colors light up in synchronized patterns along with a music on more than 7000 light bulbs that make up a lantern. Multiply the numbers of Giant Lanterns with the number of barangays in Pampanga displayed in one area then we have one Giant Lantern festival in the works.
This year is special as they officially celebrate 100 years of Ligligan parol. The festival actually started as a religious activity on what we call now as Lubenas where people bring Parols as large as 2 feet. Now the Parols being made for the festivals are more complex. It’s lighting system, design and even concept takes about a year to make. It even takes a truck to haul these lanterns and mechanisms to the venue.
This year’s venue is at the back of Robinsons Starmills in San Fernando Pampanga. There 9 giant lanterns from 9 barangays who will compete for the festival. It’s a public venue but there are cordoned areas for VIP viewers and ceremonies. There was an open space from the viewing area and the lanterns but as usual, the crowd poured in later.
The event started at 7pm but the actual lighting of the lanterns started at 8 after the lengthy ceremonies. I wish they had cut this to half an hour. There were three rounds and the first round is when each lantern would be given 7 minutes each to showcase their lantern light show. On the second round, they played in threes. Also by this time, the crowd has poured into the open area. The last round is when all the lanterns lit up simultaneously. It was a short round but a spectacular ending still.
From where I was, the music wasn’t that loud to hear but the somewhat neuron-stimulating lightshow from each Giant Lanterns was really an eye feast. My favorites were actually the last few lanterns on the right. And the two of them actually won with San Jose taking third place and Telabastagan getting 2nd. The grand winner was Dolores, but San Pedro’s Giant Lantern also made history by using fiberglass on their lantern.
That was it for the festival but the Giant Lanterns are still on display until the end of the year. And let me take this opportunity to greet everyone a Merry Christmas and have bless-filled holiday! it has been a whirlwind of a year. But despite what happened, beyond the disasters, calamities, deaths or even that shiny gifts we got during christmas, we had a lot to be thankful for.
How to go to San Fernando Pampanga: Ride a bus headed for Baguio or Olongapo, passing by San Fernando. Victory Liner rate is P99 with a one hour travel time from Cubao.
Giant Lantern Festival Video
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.