San Fernando, Pampanga keeps the tradition of handcrafting Christmas lanterns alive

San Fernando, the provincial capitol of Pampanga, is a bustling city that houses the provincial presence of some of the country’s largest retail outlets, financial firms, restaurant chains, manufacturing companies and more. The city also plans to further expand the modernization of its infrastructure and services.

Despite its drive towards modernization, the city also stays true to its roots as the home of Christmas Lanterns, as manifested by its support to its handcrafted parol industry. San Fernando Pampanga’s parol makers are known for their grandiose creations: colorful and ornately patterned lanterns which light up and blink in cheery rhythms. Largely because of this, San Fernando, Pampanga has been hailed by CNN as “Asia’s Christmas capital.”

The Kapampangan tradition of handcrafting lanterns can be dated back to the 16th century when the Augustinian friars started the practice of holding processions honoring the town’s patron saints leading to the cathedral. This practice coincides with the Misa de Gallo, or dawn masses held for nine days leading to Christmas. The processions would later evolve and become locally known as Lubenas.

During these processions, the candles held by the devout would sometimes get blown out by the hanging amihan (cool northeast wind). The enterprising Kapampangans took to covering their candles to protect the flames from the breeze, thus making them lanterns. And since Kapampangans are also characterized by their appreciation for beauty, joy, grandiosity and pomp, the lanterns grew in size and complexity of design as the years went by. They evolved from being made of simple bamboo and other indigenous materials to incorporating dancing lights as well as the use of colored plastics and fiberglass in the design.

This interesting origin story of the parol was retold by Rolando Quiambao, the lantern maker/designer behind RolRen’s Lanterns and General Merchandise. The parols of this home-grown business have enjoyed not only national, but also worldwide acclaim. If you chanced upon the bombastic parols used during the Metro Manila Filmfest or those gracing the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC), chances are, these were supplied by RolRen’s.

RonRel’s also produces lanterns for Saipan, Korea, Guam, Taiwan, Palau and more. While its products geared towards the international market retain the Kapampangan parol at their core, the execution of these lanterns reflect the culture of the country they are going to. Palau-bound lanterns, for instance, depict the nipa huts and boats used in local culture.

Recently, RolRen’s supplied San Fernando’s Heroes Hall with colorful life-size depictions of the Paskong Kapampangan (Christmas in Pampanga).

RonRel’s has also incorporated innovations in parol into its parol design. Its designers worked with computer programmers to facilitate choreographed blinking of the parol’s various lights via rotors, for example. Previously, these lights were manipulated using on/off switches.

Mr. Quiambao shares other interesting snippets of trivia as well. Did you know that what sets the Kapampangan parol apart from other Christmas lanterns are its component parts which are steeped in tradition? These are:

  • The middle portion called the tambol (base drum) so named because its round shape resembles that of the drum
  • The star-shaped portion after the tambol is the pito-siko, named after the way the star’s corners resemble bent elbows
  • Surrounding the star is the palimbon from the Kapampangan word for procession that circles the town on the way to the cathedral
  • The outer layer is called the ponteta, from the Kapampangan word punta, which refers to it being the final component of the parol.

The artisans of RolRen’s don’t have a monopoly of Kapampangan parol-enthusiasm either.

With the approach of the holiday season, amateur lantern makers from various barangays in the city are gearing up for this year’s Giant Lantern Festival. Already on its 110th year, the festival displays the artistry and passion the Kapampangans have for their parols as representatives from participating barangays contruct lanterns up to 20 feet tall to compete with those from other barangays.

Barangay San Jose, in particular, is represented by the Ambrosio family, the only team that has a female lantern-maker, Mary Anne Torres. (The lantern makers of the other contest entries this year are all male.)

This year’s entry from San Jose will reach up to 19.8 feet and will requires 10,000 lightbulbs.

Barangay San Jose’s last win in the Giant Lantern Festival was in 1991. Their winning piece was later displayed during the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

The Giant Lantern Festival Competition will be held at the Robinsons Starmills on December 15, 6pm at the Robinsons Starmills. Participating barangays include Calulut, Del Carmen, Del Pilar, San Jose, San Juan, San Nicolas, San Pedro, Sindalan, Sta. Lucia, Sto. Nino and Telabastagan.

Want to take part in this fun and light-filled event as well as check out the local delights that San Fernando, Pampanga has to offer? Check out these packages centered around the competition night from tour operators accredited by the city government:

M.A.G. Travel & Tours

  • Tour Highlights: Giant Lantern Grand Competition Night, visit and learn how to make giant lanterns, Kapampangan cookery and food crawl, learning indigenous ways of preparing and cooking meals, a visit to the Sunken Church of San Guillermo Parish, a visit to the San Fernando Train Station
  • Rate (with overnight stay ay Imerex Hotel): Php5,650 (single)/Php4,280 (twin)
  • Contact Details: +63 2 3598699; +63 045 4995139; +63 917 6311459; +63 920 1172333; and +63 923 4258888

Don’t Skip Manila

  • Tour Highlights: Early Buffet Dinner of heirloom Kapampangan recipes; lantern-making workshop and factory tour; Giant Lantern Festival Show
  • Rate: Php2,000 pax
  • Contact Details: dontskipmanila@gmail.com

CultureShockPH

  • Tour Highlights: Early Buffet Dinner of heirloom Kapampangan recipes; lantern-making workshop and factory tour; Giant Lantern Festival Show
  • Rates: Php3,000 (discounts will apply for multi-person booking, students and children age 12 and below)
  • Contact Details: +63 917 7146737 (Osep Reyes)
  • LQM Travel
    • Package Inclusions: round trip transportation (pick up from Clark or Angeles); entrance to Clark Museum and VIP Seat at the Giant Lantern Exhibition; Lunch and Dinner; Souvenir T-Shirt and Licensed Tour Guide
      Rate: Php3,000 (discounts will apply for multi-person booking)
      Contact Details: +63 045 3311036; +63 045 3311356; +63 906 0660521; or +63 919 8744984
  • Disclosure: Together with other bloggers, I participated in a tout and food crawl sponsored by the city government of San Fernando, Pampanga. The experiences and food served were not paid for by the attendees including myself.
  • Author: Gel Jose

    Manic Pixie Dream Girl Wannabe, Imagineer, Foodie, TV Addict and Lifelong Learner

    6 thoughts on “San Fernando, Pampanga keeps the tradition of handcrafting Christmas lanterns alive”

    1. Wow! I would love to witness the lantern festival! Sa UP kasi grabe dami ng taoo……. and besides, sa Pampanga tlaga kilala ang lanterns! Maski ying gamit sa bahay na parol sa pampanga pa galing ❤️

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      1. Do try to witness the Giant Lantern Festival at Robinsons Starmills. Participation is really a point of pride among the barangays and they’re sure to provide a good show. 🙂

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