Pampanga’s star shines the brightest during the holiday season, in both literal and figurative sense, as it brings out its dazzling, colorful paruls (lanterns) to light up the nights leading to Christmas. While the lantern tradition is not unique to the Philippines—Oriental countries like Japan and China are likewise famous for their lighted paper lanterns with their characteristic tassels—it can rightfully claim to be the home of the most spectacular Christmas lanterns in the world, courtesy of Pampanga.
The parols in Pampanga, like all lanterns in the Islands, started with simple, boxy paper lanterns with wooden frameworks held on bamboo poles and borne to light early religious processions, as in the lubenas of the Virgen de La Naval in Bacolor. ‘Parol” was localized from the Spanish ‘farol’ (lantern), which, in turn was derived from “Pharos”, a Grecian island along the Nile renowned for its lighthouse that came to be part of the world’s seven wonders. The lanterns soon acquired the shape of a star and even a tail, to represent the Star of Bethlehem that shone over Christ’s birthplace in Bethlehem.
For many years, the basic construction of the parol remained unchanged—bamboo sticks form the framework for the three-dimensional five pointed star, which is then covered with papel de japon of suitable color. The bamboo frames are lined with strips of foil paper to define the star and one or two tails of are added, also made from paper strips. The star can also be accentuated with foil cut-outs and circumscribed with a papered bamboo hoop. Several variations were spun-off from this basic parul, including lanterns with multiple points and, of late, paruls fashioned from translucent capiz shells, fiberglass, colored vinyl and handmade paper.
But it took the people of San Fernando to re-invent the ‘parul’ , transforming them into the giant, spectacularly-lit lanterns that we know today. The advent of electricity in the 1930s solved the lighting problems of lanterns, and so artisans focused their attention in enhancing the design and size of the common ‘parul’.
The Davids from barangay Sta. Lucia, are a family of lantern-makers who were crafting ‘paruls’ as early as the 1930s. The patriarch, the late Rodolfo David, is credited with inventing the rotor, which revolutionized the design and lighting mechanisms of paruls, allowing for countless lighting possibilities and color combinations.
To maximize such attractive kaleidoscopic effects, lanterns grew in size, with the first battery-powered giant lanterns devised by David’s son-in-law, Severino, in the early 1940s. By 1958, David had perfected a new lantern design, papered with papel de japon, and now distinctively known as ‘parul sampernandu’. The flat, circular lanterns are designed with individual compartments housing a lightbulbs that light and ‘dance’ using the ingenious rotor technology devised not ny engineers, but by local craftsmen. Rotors are fashioned from barrels, which are rotated manually by a person to light the lanterns—the same principle employed by small music boxes that has rotors with embossed parts that sound off when they come in contact with the steel tines.
In the case of sampernandu lanterns, the electricity is activated with hairpins when they come in contact with the metal rotor. Strategically-placed masking tape on the rotor, on the other hand, cuts off the flow of electricity. This stop-and-go flow of electricity dictates the lighting pattern of the thousands of lightbulbs (some as much as 4,000 bulbs) , achieving the dancing illusion that becomes more apparent when the lighting is synched with live band music.
Today, the paruls of Pampanga, led by the sampernandu of the capital city, continue to shine brightly with the annual Ligligan Parul (Giant Lantern Festival and Contest) that has helped popularized and revitalized interest in this once-vanishing art. Leading lantern makers like Erning David Quiwa, Eric Quiwa, Roland Quiambao and Arnel Flores are at the forefront of this mision to keep the parul tradition alive.
The Kapampangan paruls have also awed audience worldwide—from Hollywood U.S.A. (where a float decorated with sampernandu lanterns won first prize in a folk festival), Thailand, Taiwan, to Austria and Spain. Always a community affair, the making of Christmas lanterns also helps to keep the flame of bayanihan spirit burning, encouraging generosity, charity, goodwill and peaceful co-existence, which are, in fact, the same messages that Christmas brings.
MASAYANG PASKU AT MASAPLALANG BAYUNG BANWA KEKO NGAN!