Year in and year out, one night makes all other nights at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman pale in comparison.
Once every December for the past nine decades, the Academic Oval is rid of work-weary trudging and the careening of jeepneys and private vehicles. There is no talk of next week’s examinations, of traffic, of school work or the lack of progress thereof.
In keeping with tradition, about 2,000 participants and spectators from within and outside the university trooped to the Acad Oval on Dec. 14. The university’s main thoroughfare turned into a spectacle of colors and lights that night as the UP community welcomed the holidays with the Lantern Parade.
This year’s theme, “Dangal at Kahusayan sa Paglilingkod sa Bayan” (“Honor and Excellence in Serving the Nation”), was a celebration of the ingenuity and the many facets and talents of the Iskolar ng Bayan.
The UP ROTC band led the parade with their lively take on the song that launched a thousand renditions, Korean pop star Psy’s “Gangnam Style.”
The spotlight was on indigenous and folk dances, as dance troupes from the College of Human Kinetics turned the Acad Oval into their stage. The UP Pep Squad also bared the steps and stunts that brought them the “three-peat” or their third straight UAAP cheerdance championship last September.
Architecture students put their design background to good use with their towering metal warrior lantern. In observance of National Architecture Week, a number of Arki freshmen also paid tribute to local talent and materials with costumes that replicated local architectural structures.
Up-and-coming schoolteachers from the College of Education wore DIY headgear reminiscent of stories for children written by Filipino authors. This complemented their lantern, a revolving globe depicting pivotal scenes in the featured children’s tales.
Future engineers made up the largest contingent to the Lantern Parade. Students wore their pride for the college and their respective organizations on their shirts, with some even chanting their org’s slogans throughout the parade. Their Transformers lantern, a jeepney that transformed into a robot, elicited whoops and cheers from the crowd.
Literary luminaries like the Dark Knight, Catwoman, Harry Potter, the Disney princesses, Alice, Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion and the Tin Woodman came to life in the persons—and costumes—of Library and Information Science students.
Diliman’s budding media practitioners treated the Lantern Parade crowd to a dance number as the year’s winning lantern—a citizen journalist robot made of recycled materials and equipped with CCTV projection—trailed along. As a student of the national university, the Iskolar ng Bayan is acutely aware of how his or her condition is never far removed from the plight of those beyond the walls of the university.
Activities within the campus, including the milestone Lantern Parade, are platforms for discourse and protest. The flame of civic involvement was kept burning through the participation of marginalized groups, including land-tillers and indigenous folk, and through lanterns calling for the passage or repeal of contentious legislation such as the RH bill and the Anti-Cybercrime Act.
Of the 25 academic units on campus, only the College of Fine Arts is no longer a contender for Best Lantern. This is because the college’s lanterns bagged the championship for a staggering 60 out of the Lantern Parade’s 90 years, elevating it to the Hall of Fame and securing the honor of being the festivity’s perennial finale.
This year, the Fine Arts community soared to new heights with lanterns centered on the theme of flight. Students were given free rein to interpret the theme and create larger-than-life artworks, with the space stretching from the street to the sky as their canvas.
Among the resulting masterpieces were a Tim Burton-inspired Santa’s sleigh, a dragon, creepy-crawlies, an incandescent UFO (complete with an abducted carabao!), and reimagined candy-coated aircraft.
The Lantern Parade and the days leading up to it mean myriad things for different people. The UP community that celebrates it, after all, is characterized by diversity, the extent of which would put the highly stratified cafeteria in Mean Girls to shame.
For freshies, their first parade is a holiday send-off from the sprawling campus they are starting to call home.
For some thrill seekers, the pageant of lights is a welcome conclusion to the excitement brought by the Oblation Run earlier that day.
For local student councils and colleges, it’s an opportunity for students, faculty members and staff alike to bond over the creation of their respective Best Lantern contenders.
For most students, the Lantern Parade is the tail-end of the countdown to freedom. Still for others, particularly for those with classes in the College of Fine Arts, it stands as the last graded hurdle before the great big jump into the holiday season.
The Lantern Parade also functions as the UP system’s annual (albeit unofficial) alumni homecoming. Fresh graduates, octogenarians and everyone else in between pound the pavement of their alma mater on this eve of lights.
They bask in the glorious company of old friends, some accompanied by their significant others and families along the very same roads they once passed as fresh-faced collegiates.
It’s been said that as the country’s national university, UP is a microcosm of Philippine society. The Lantern Parade then is the microcosm of that microcosm, with academic units in Diliman and representatives of other UP system units coming together.
More than being a showcase of pageantry and an exchange of pleasantries, the Lantern Parade is the UP community’s thanksgiving for the year that has been, and a kick-off for the year that is to come.
Its proud, storied history remains a toast to the dynamism of youth, an icon of UP and Filipino culture, and a testament to service—for one’s college, university and indeed, one’s nation—that never flickers, even long after the last Christmas ornament has been taken down and stored away.