Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Star is Born

10:28 PM

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The parol—a classic example of Christmas tradition in the Philippines—is a symbol of hope, light, triumph, and many other things. As a predominantly Catholic country, most Filipinos view the parol as the physical manifestation of the Star of Bethlehem, the star that brought the three kings to the infant Jesus.

But the origins of the parol aren’t as grand as the finding of Jesus Christ in the manger. It’s a humbler story of a salt vendor.

The Spanish Era
Francisco Estanislao was a salt vendor from San Fernando, Pampanga. He created the first parol using bamboo and Japanese paper back in 1908. (FRJimenez)  

His parols were used to illuminate the path to the Church for Misa de Gallo or Simbang Gabi, a custom still observed by many Filipinos in the country and around the world.

Back then, parols were round with a small lit candle to give it light.

Present Day
Nowadays, parols are shaped in many forms, though still resembling the classic five-point star, and made of varying materials such as colored plastic, cellophane, and capiz shells.

Pampanga remains the parol capital of the Philippines living up to the Pampangeño that started it all. Yearly, the province hosts its Giant Lantern Festival that features some of the biggest dancing lanterns that bop to different tunes. This year, nine barangays in Pampanga vied for a spot in parol making history at the festival as well as a Php 150, 000.00 grand prize.

It no longer lights the way to churches, but serves as decorations in houses, public and private buildings, and along roads and highways. It has even been brought to other countries.

One of the more popular international parol celebrations is at the Wiener Christkindlmarkt (Vienna Christmas Market) where 60 different parols were lit on a one-of-a-kind Filipino Christmas tree (Balana).

More than a sideshow at international festivals, Filipinos who spend their holidays away from home and country have taken to putting up parols as their connection back to the Philippines. It is a reminder of where they came from (Orejas).

In a time of widespread migration, parents, siblings, daughters, and sons abroad need some kind of connection to their home especially during a season so widely known for the rekindling of family ties.

Surely, the parol has come a long way from its humble origins in San Fernando, Pampanga. It once guided townsfolk toward churches. Now, it’s guiding people back to their roots, to their homes. It has become a beacon of hope and a symbol of home for both Filipinos and foreigners alike.

For a glimpse of this year’s Giant Lantern Festival, watch GMA News’ special coverage:

Works Cited:
Balana, Cynthia D. “’Parol’ a big hit in Austria.” The Philippine Daily Inquirer. 11 Nov. 2007. Web. 12 Dec. 2014. 

FRJimenez. “Unang parol sa Pinas.” GMA News. GMA Network. 21 Dec. 2011. Web. 12 Dec. 2014

Orejas, Tonette. “Pampanga’s ‘parol’ goes global.” The Philippine Daily Inquirer. 11 Nov. 2012. Web. 12 Dec. 2014.

Article by Anna
Art by Pio

Pio is an aspiring animator and artist. A gentle giant, it's hard for him to go unnoticed anywhere, but gives him attention when he draws in public.


  1. One of the best things to do in Pampanga during Christmas season is watching this Giant Lantern Festival. We always go there during the season to watch with family and friends. :)