The focal point of the picture is an altar featuring a Bambino, an iconic representation of the Infant Jesus as he lay in a manger in Bethlehem. It was St. Francis of Assisi who introduced this creche tradition, locally known as “belen”, and the practice of displaying the infant Niño was propagated by Franciscan missionaries.
Christmas is undoubtedly the brightest of the holidays, and in parts of Europe, the Festival of Lights—St. Lucia’s Day , Dec. 13—heralded the season. As one can see, the whole Nativity tableaux is lit with lights—from the figural Angel light holders called “portaciriales” to the more modern string of lights in vogue in American homes in the 1920s-1930s. General Electric is credited with introducing the first popular cone shaped lights in 1922 and it was not long before Japan improved on the idea, creating figural lamps molded in milk glass. Most Filipino homes during the 1930s period had Christmas trees lit with commercial lights manufactured by NOMA Electric Corporation.
However, outshining them all is the singular symbol of Kapampangan Christmas -the “parol”- which comes from the Spanish “farol”, meaning a lamp or lantern (“Farol”, on the other hand, evolved from the Greek word Pharos, an island in the Nile famous for its lighthouse and hailed as one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world).
Early Philippine parols were nothing more than candles or coconut oil lamps encased in paper shades shaped like fleur-de-lis and crosses held aloft on bamboo poles. Soon, the parol acquired a 5-pointed star shape and a tail of papel de japon (thin Japanese paper) mimicking the trail of the star that guided the Magis to Bethlehem. Today, San Fernando parol makers are the undisputed masters of this art with their elaborate, animated and electrified parols, earning for their city the title--“Lantern Capital of the Philippines”.
It is the glow of the Parol that has become synonymous with Pampanga, an artful testament not only to Kapampangan creativity but also to his devout spirituality with his use of the Star as a fitting symbol of a starlit Babe, the one who would one day become the Light of the World.
MASAYANG PASKU AT MASAPLALANG BAYUNG BANWA!
(21 December 2002)