Christmas parol, also known and the Christmas lantern, is a traditional Filipino symbol of the star of Bethlehem. It is the most recgnized Christmas symbol of faith and hope in the Philippines.
The Christmas parol is considered the greatest expression of the Christmas spirit in the Philippines. It signals the beginning of the Christmas season for the country. What is a Christmas parol? In the Filipino language, the word parol means lantern. The traditional parol is a five point star-shaped Christmas lantern which has been a time-honoured Christmas symbol in the Philippines. You see parols hanging in every street and road of towns and cities, outside almost every Filipino homes, in schools and office buildings, shopping malls, and even churches during the entire Christmas season which usually starts as early as November. As a traditional Christmas symbol for every Filipino, the Christmas parol is a reminder of the star of Bethlehem. It symbolizes the guiding light of the Three Wise Men to the manger of the Child Jesus.
There is no other Christmas symbol in the Philippines that exudes more warmth than these Christmas lanterns called parol. These Christmas lanterns are very unique to the Philippines. Parol-making is a traditional folk craft of Filipinos. It is even taught to school children. Schools hold lantern parades every year to showcase the artwork of these students. The original parols were made from very simple materials. The star-shaped frames were made of thin bamboo covered with colored cellophane or Japanese paper ( rice paper) and crepe paper. Underneath were two tails that served as the rays of the star. Either a candle or a coconut oil lamp was used for illumination.
Today, these Filipino Christmas lanterns called parol come in many different shapes, sizes, and materials. It need not be star-shaped anymore. The parols can either be round, rectangular, or even square with the Nativity scene in it. Some special shapes like flowers, Santa Clause and angel are also being designed and made today. However, the basic concept remains the same. The traditional star-shaped lanterns have even evolved into parols made of Capiz shell or plastic. Wrought irons have replaced the traditional bamboo stick frames. Meticulously designed modern Philippine Christmas lanterns use layers of these materials with different stickers. This creates an impression of depth and contrast despite having only one source of light coming from inside the lanterns themselves. Not only have the frames and materials evolved. The candle and the coconut lamp that used to illuminate the star have evolved too. The parols have been made even more colorful by using colorful blinking bulbs in a kaleidoscope of patterns. Indeed, these innovations from the traditional parol showcase the ingenuity, creativity and artistic talent of the Filipinos.
History of Chrismas Parol and the Philippine Christmas Celebration
Parol, which is pronounced as pah-roll with a rolling “r”, came from the Spanish word “farol” which means lantern. The World Book’s Christmas in the Philippines wrote that the origin of parol can be traced from the Mexican pinata. Originally, the pinata came to Spain from Italy in the 1300’s. Later, it spread to Mexico. It was, however, the Spaniards who brought the concept of pinata to the Philippines when they brought Christianity in the country.
The book “A Child’s Pasko: Christmas in the Philippines” wrote that the first parols where made to be used as lanterns to light the way to the church for the Misa de Aguinaldo or Gift Masses that were held everyday. During those times, the church started to hold these masses on December 16 until the midnight of December 24. The Christmas mass celebration on December 16 marked the beginning of the Christmas season in the Philippines. On the other hand, the midnight mass on Christmas eve, called Misa de Gallo or Mass of the Rooster, marked the culmination of the Christmas celebration. The Christmas eve mass is later followed by a sumptuous meal shared by the whole family. This Christmas eve meal, called Noche Buena, was most awaited part of the celebrated by children. This Christmas tradition is still being observed by Filipino families up to today.
Stories about parol as told by old folks say that they would hang their parols outside their windows after coming home to church to display their work of art. Their parols are lighted with candles or coconut oil lamps, so that villagers who would walk around can appreciate the works of others. Every Filipino household would make their parol with better design each year and even outdo those of their neighbors. Later, this friendly competition was enoucraged bt the church. Spanish priests offered incentives for people who created the best parol. It was them when the parols were viewed as devotional offering of the Filipino families to Jesus.
Parol- Making as a Symbol of Hope
Over the years, the popularity of parol has not only made it the most recognizable Christmas symbol for the Filipinos. These Philippine Christmas lanterns also became the symbol of hope to many parol makers. Many Filipinos have made parol-making business as a source of income. They begin to make their parols as early as June of each year and start to sell them in the market starting in October. Parol stores and parol vendors are seen along strrets and highways and even shopping malls. In fact, because of the intricacy of the parol designs today, parols are already being sold overseas. These export quality Christmas lanterns are usually made of capiz shells and can be re-used every year. There are even parols that are being sold online.
Parol as a Festival of Lights
Parol as a major part of the Philippine Christmas celebration has become a festival of lights. Homes, businesses, streets, and parks are brightly lit with spectacular displays of beautiful and colorfully blinking parols. One must travel at night everywhere in the city starting on December 16 until January 6 to see the peak of this Festival of Lights in the Philippines.
The most lavish and spectacular parade of parols or Philippine Christmas lanterns is held every year in San Fernando, Pampanga in Luzon. As much as twenty feet parols in the most unique shapes, colors and sizes made from all kins of materials paraded around the streets on truck beds. This Giant Lantern Festival has become the event that the province of Pampanga is known for. Local and foreign tourists marvel at the parade of wonderful parols with kaleidoscopic blinking lights.
The parols of today do not just represent the innovation, artistry and creativity of the Filipinos. For the Filipinos, aprol-making, decorating and lighting a parol also signifies shared faith and hope. That is why Christmas Parol is the most recognizable Christmas symbol for Filipinos not just in the Philippines but in every country where there is a Filipino family and community.