Monday, December 8, 2008


SHINING, SHIMMERING, SPLENDID. Maitinis in Mabalacat. A lantern and religious float competition highlight the Christmas celebration of this Pampanga town. 2006.

The holidays are once again upon us, and as always, the Pampanga landscape is alit with its most brilliant contribution to the festivities of the season: the Christmas parul or lantern. And the place that started it all—San Fernando-- has not just become the province’s premiere city, but has also rightfully earned the title of “The Christmas Capital of the Philippines”, what with its long tradition of creating the most colorful, most dazzling and largest paruls in the country.

The lantern, of course, represents the Star of Bethlehem that lit the night when Jesus was born. They have always been part of ancient history, used both for rites and everyday use. The Chinese caught fireflies and put them in transparent paper container to help light their way. The Japanese had their own crinkled paper versions while the Indians made star-shaped lanterns to celebrate the Diwali Festival. But nowhere in the world can one find holiday lanterns of the most mesmerizing variety than in Pampanga, giving rise to a renown industry that has produced that distinctive ‘parul sampernandu’.

It is said that the Pampanga lantern tradition originated in Bacolor during the La Naval festivities. Cross-shaped, candle-lit lanterns often accompanied images in processions of old. The tradition may have spilled over to neighboring San Fernando in 1904, to where the capital was transferred from Bacolor. According to local historian Mariano Henson, Angeles residents were already processing their La Naval image accompanied by white papel de japon lanterns as early as the 1800s. Lanterns from Angeles, however, remained small. There were even unusual fish lanterns with movable fins and tails, perhaps a way of impressing lubenas (procession) audiences.

The traditional Pampanga lantern is small; it was only in the 1960s that the proportions grew larger in San Fernando, perhaps to signal a barangay’s growing prosperity and attract more crowds. Kalburo (calcium carbide) replace candles as a lighting medium, and later, car batteries. The simple 5-pointed, bamboo-framed lantern evolved in the hands of skilled and inventive Kapampangan parul makers. Mario Datu of Del Pilar is credited with using an iron wire framework for the lantern body. A certain Mr. Linson popularized the use of layered cardboards to give a lantern a 2-dimensional carved look—“dinukit a parul”.

A rotor system also replaced the more primitive “kalakati” method (where an iron rod was run against a row of nails) of making the lights dance and twinkle, an innovation introduced by Crising Valencia. Here, a rotating tin cylinder covered with tape is manually turned to create the characteristic kaleidoscope play of lights. Today, in the annual Ligligan Parul (Lantern Contest), big generators are used to turn lanterns into psychedelic supernovas that light up to the beat of music.

The main parts of a typical San Fernando lantern include the lantern center, called tambor. From this center radiate the siku-siku, or right-angled designs that define the star shape of the lantern, the puntetas or rays, while the palimbun—circular trims—line the outer rim. Enlarging these parts create the giant parul, which may attain dimensions from 20-40 feet, and which need from 3,000 to 5,000 bulbs to light. But in December 2002, 100 craftsmen created the world’s largest lantern in San Fernando—a Christmas parul with a diameter of 26.8 meters (almost a hundred feet) built at a cost P5 million, sponsored in part by Walt Disney TV.

Our holidays in Pampanga may never be “white”, but with our local paruls illuminating our nights, all our Christmasses are sure to be merry and bright.


(*NOTE: Many thanks to Joel Pabustan Mallari for much of the research information needed for this article. Feature titles with asterisks represent other writings of the author that appeared in other publications and are not included in the original book, "Views from the Pampang & Other Scenes")

1 comment:

宜宾麻将 said...

Very rich and interesting articles, good BLOG!