The parol of star lantern is perhaps the paramount Filipino Christmas symbol – colorful, crafted with love and aglow with the spirit of the season. The Christmas lantern or Parul Sampernandu in Kapampangan can never be distanced from the town which created it, the City of San Fernando. It is what San Fernando is known for. And it is what has made the city famous all over the country and even around the world. The word parol derives from the Spanish farol, meaning lantern or light. Filipinos place much significance on the symbolism of light, the star regarded as a fount of light and a sign of hope in the predominantly Christian country in Asia. Such a creation however, did not come without the untiring efforts of the Fernandinos, and more so, their ingenuity and innovation. And it is because of the Parul Sampernandu that San Fernando has earned for itself the title of “Christmas Capital of the Philippines.”
The San Fernando lantern industry progressed from the Giant Lantern Festival of San Fernando. The festival, which is held every December, finds its root in Bacolor where a much simpler activity was held. “Ligligan Parul” (Lantern Competition) was said to have started in San Fernando in the year 1904. But some say that the “Ligligan Parul” did not happen immediately after the transfer and in fact began in 1908. This forerunner of the present day Giant Lantern Festival was in a religious activity which we know today as “lubenas”, a nine-day novena before Christmas, which coincided with the “simbang gabi” from December 16 to 24. This tradition gradually evolved as the lanterns became bigger and the designs more intricate. Later, one big lantern was made for each barrio, which was created through a cooperative effort.
It was in the year 1931 the electricity was established in San Fernando, thus sparking the birth of the first Giant Lantern Festival. The added illusion of dancing lights highlighted the bright colors and intricate designs of these Giant Lanterns. At this time, the lights were controlled by individual switches that were turned on and off following the best of the music. In the years that followed, more improvements were introduced to the giant lanterns. Colored plastic replaced the traditional papel de hapon.
In replacement of bamboo, the lantern makers weld together a steel frame, which follows the design itself. The frame is the lined with cardboard and foil followed by another enormous task, placing the over 5,000 light bulbs in their places and wiring them up together using hundreds of yards of electrical wires. Large steel barrels called rotors also replaced the hand-controlled switches to maneuver the lights. Strips of masking tape on this rotors establish the sequence of the switching on and off of the lights. Hairpins, attached to the end of the wires leading to each bulb, connect the lights to the rotor, which in turn, is connected to the source of electricity.
Today, the simple lantern made of paper glued over a bamboo frame with rice paste has evolved into spectacular shapes and kaleidoscopic splendor – but its message of light and hope remains the same.