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Pampanga's lantern-making tradition thrives amid pandemic

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MANILA – Christmas in the Philippines will never be complete without the iconic 'parol' or lantern.
Craftsmen from San Fernando City in Pampanga, dubbed as the Christmas capital of the Philippines, have continued the tradition of lantern-making despite the pandemic.
"Syempre yung parol parang nagbibigay ng pag asa sa mga tao pag nakita nilang umilaw, parang nagbibigay ng hope or ng pag asa sa bawat tao (Of course this lantern gives hope to the people, especially when they see its lights)," said Edmar David, who has been leading a team in building a 20-foot lantern annually for 16 years now.
For Filipinos, parols symbolize the star of Bethlehem that guided the 'three kings' to the place where Jesus was born.
The first-ever recorded lantern maker is from Santa Lucia, San Fernando, Pampanga.
In 1908, Francisco Estanislao, a salt maker from San Fernando, made the first recorded lantern, a five-point star said to be built from bamboo, coco cloth, and some Japanese paper.
This 'parol' then became a symbol of hope and a guiding light for the Filipinos.
Giant lantern fest
This year, however, the rules for the "giant Christmas Lantern" festival have been modified by the city tourism office due to the prevailing health crisis.
Organizers and stakeholders agreed to hold an exhibition of their giant parol so as not to break the tradition.
Due to the imposed health protocols, there is no public viewing during the opening and instead, the exhibit was shown to an online audience.
Edmar's family from San Fernando has the tradition of building giant 'parol' and joining the festival every year.
Despite the limited budget this year because most of the barangay's budget has been spent on anti-Covid activities and in helping the people, they still managed to come up with their parol.
Edmar said as early as August, his team already conceptualized the draft of their design.
He said even with the threat of the pandemic, they did not hesitate to join the festival.
"Lalo kaming malulungkot kapag hindi kami sumali dahil ito yung nagbibigay saya sa amin tuwing pasko, pag darating ang pasko, yun lang me new normal, social distancing sa mga tao yun lang ang dapat sundin natin yung health protocol lang yung kailangan nating gawin (we will just feel sad if we do not participate because this gives us joy. The only difference is that there is social distancing, we just have to follow the health protocols)," said Edmar.
Lantern business continues
Despite the pandemic, people still come to Pampanga to buy their Christmas lanterns.
Cherry Ann Macapar and Josephine del Rosario traveled from Bataan to buy their "perfect parol".
Macapar, who is spending her first Christmas in the country after so many years, said she wants to show her children who grew up in Abu Dhabi what Christmas like is in the Philippines.
"Christmas po eh, hindi naman dapat nawawala ang spirit ng Christmas lalo ngayong pandemic. Kailangan natin si Jesus, bumili po kami ng Christmas lantern para ma feel din namin yung Christmas at yung birth ni Jesus kahit pandemic po alam natin anjan si Jesus (It's Christmas and we should not lose its spirit especially now that there is the pandemic. We bought a lantern to feel the spirit of Christmas, the birth of Jesus.)," she said.
Del Rosario, meanwhile, said a simple celebration is enough during this trying time.
Marie Capis, a lantern vendor, said there are still people buying from them despite the threat of the pandemic.
She said several people rely on lantern making for their livelihood, so shop owners decided to open and sell lanterns this year.
"Sinasabi ng mga bumibili kung baga pag nakakakita daw sila ng parol na nabubuhayan sila ng loob (Some buyers tell me that when they see these lanterns, they feel that there is hope)," Marie said.
Chris Fernandez, another lantern vendor, is also thankful that people continue to put up lanterns in their homes.
His customers come from as far as Bicol.
He said whatever happens, Filipinos will always be celebrating Christmas.
"Kahit simple lang basta buo yung pamilya masaya na ko, dun pa lang panalo na ko eh (Even if it is simple as long as we are complete, alone already make me feel like a winner)," he said. (PNA)

Last Modified: 2022-Jan-15 10.39.33 UTC+0800