Now that the weather has turned colder and many of us are reaching for heavier blankets at night, Christmas is definitely approaching. Along with it comes a desire to rekindle traditions that were put on hold last year due to the pandemic.
It could be as simple as completing the Simbang Gabi—waking up at dawn to attend the nine masses and burning our tongues on piping hot bibingka and puto bumbong. Or it can be as elaborate and detailed as noche buena with the entire family gathered around a table filled with delicacies like bone-in ham, chicken galantina, cochinillo, and fruit salad.
For others, Christmas is about being with friends and family members they haven’t seen in months or, in some cases, close to two years. Putting up the yearly decorations, wrapping presents to place under the tree or singing carols has therefore become more meaningful and precious.
Stripped of all the excess, however, Christmas is ultimately about the Holy Family and how a star—the star of Bethlehem—lit the way for the Wise Men to find them in a stable and pay homage to the Christ Child with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
In the past, simple star-shaped lanterns made of bamboo sticks and papel de Japon—a candle carefully lit and shining from within—helped guide farmers in the countryside to church where they would attend the dawn masses.
“The star lantern (parol) is made weeks before, of bamboo and tissue paper. Formerly lit by candles, it is now bulb-bright, and may assume more shapes than there are stars,” Doreen G. Fernandez wrote in her book published in 2000, “Palayok: Philippine Food Through Time, On Site, In the Pot.”
“In San Fernando, Pampanga, the parols are eight feet or more in diameter, mounted on trucks, covered with layers of diaphanous color, and wired through a kind of homemade bamboo computer that programs the lights and colors to whirl, change, blink and blend,” she added.
The creativity of Kapampangans when it comes to making parol is not limited to just one town. In fact, the province is known for its mesmerizing and multi-colored lanterns that can be viewed in their full magnificence at Robinsons Starmills Pampanga.
“A whole barrio works on one parol, and accompanies it to the churchyard at midnight for the contest, in which the real prize is not the money, but the statement of village achievement and pride,” Fernandez wrote.
For the past 13 years, Robinsons Starmills Pampanga has been the official venue of the Giant Lantern Competition, an annual event highly anticipated by tourists and locals alike. Known colloquially as Ligligan Parul, the festival is held yearly in mid-December in San Fernando City. Because of its popularity, the city is now known as the Christmas Capital of the Philippines.
In the past, the festival was also a competition where participating barangays tried to outdo each other when it came to the flashiness and blindingly bright color combinations of their parol. “Kapapmpangan prefers striking, bongga colors—aqua, fuchsia, magenta—always with a bit of shine,” said Dez Bautista in the 2001 book Pinoy Pop Culture.
Visitors will get to see that and more when they head to Robinsons Starmills Pampanga this holiday season. The seven participating barangays namely Bulaon, Calulut, San Juan, San Nicolas, Sta. Lucia, Sto. Niño and Telabastagan will present their giant lanterns in a dazzling live show from Dec. 16 to Jan. 2, 2022. To view the lantern display at the mall’s rear parking lot, shoppers and interested parties must first complete a minimum purchase at Robinsons Starmills Pampanga and Robinsons Angeles.
Local tourists and groups can view the exhibition in several ways. Option one is the limited drive-in viewing, or the limited face to face with seats and group viewing for those who are fully vaccinated. Online advance reservations is encouraged and can be made through www.giantlanterns.com while onsite registrations are available at Robinsons Movieworld Ticket Booths at Level 2 of Robinsons Starmills Pampanga and at Level 3 of Robinsons Angeles.
“We wish to invite our kababayans to celebrate the holiday season with us and watch this colorful exhibition with your family and friends,” said Arlene G. Magtibay, RLC Senior Vice President and Robinsons Malls General Manager.
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