For over 100 years, handmade lanterns have been synonymous with the Filipino Christmas. And in the Christmas capital of the Philippines, San Fernando, Pampanga, lantern craftsmen continue to bring light and hope to this special season.
The industry behind Christmas lanterns, known locally as parul, started in 1908 when salt vendor Francisco Estanislao, the first recorded lantern maker, made lanterns from bamboo and coco cloth for Simbang Gabi. Since then, lantern businesses in the capital of Pampanga have progressed, and there is now an annual Giant Lantern Festival held there every mid-December.
A master of his craft, Arnel Flores has been making lanterns for more than 30 years. He is the first lantern maker to use sequined fabric in his parul pieces, in the hopes of innovating designs to keep the industry and tradition alive.
“Lanterns started with bamboo and Japanese papers, until we welded wires and used plastic as materials. Eventually, capiz shells were also used after that, but capiz gets brittle over time, so we thought of ways…to make lanterns that can last longer…. That’s how we came up with this innovation, which is fabric,” shared Arnel in the Kapampangan language.
“We are the only ones who are making lanterns using fabric and we have been doing this for five years already. Some have tried to replicate it, but I believe we are the only ones who can actually make it,” added Arnel. “We use fabric with sequins so when the light passes through it, the sequins also glisten, giving it extra sparkle.”
Arnel, who will represent Barangay Telabastagan at the upcoming Giant Lantern Festival, also shared that it takes longer to make lanterns out of fabric. Hence, they are a little more expensive than the standard plastic lanterns, which cost about P2,500. Fabric ones can cost around P5,000.
Parul and the pandemic
Arnel’s son, Mark Niño, is the youngest lantern maker in the city. He has been making lanterns for 16 years. Mark Niño said lantern making has always been his interest, and has been joining the Giant Lantern Festival for nine years already.
Representing Barangay San Juan in the festival, Mark Niño said he will also showcase his lanterns in an international exposition next year themed “Paskong Pinoy.”
Having been in the industry for more than three decades, and two years into the pandemic, Arnel said that the demand to make lanterns continues, and he is grateful that despite the pandemic, he has never laid off any of his employees.
However, according to Byron Bondoc, also a lantern master, sales are still relatively weaker because of the pandemic.
Byron has been making lanterns for more than 20 years, and capiz and plastic lanterns are his specialty. He starts making capiz lanterns as early as January.
“Selling lanterns has become quite difficult in this pandemic. Hopefully next year, it will be easier,” said Bondoc in the Kapampangan language. “But the price is just about the same. Capiz lanterns for homes range between P1,800 to P2,500 depending on the design and the size.”
Bondoc won the Giant Lantern Festival in 2019, representing Barangay Sta. Lucia. He said the preparation and the making of a giant lantern takes about three to five months.
“Our theme this year will be about the pandemic, with a little mash-up on the music,” shared Byron. “We usually start making it by October, sometimes August, depending on the time. Since this year it will just be an exhibition, I did not add extra gimmicks, but if it’s a competition, we would have started preparing by July.”
Lanterns for all occasions
Parul Sampernandu may seem to be tied just to the holiday season, but according to Arnel, lantern making has progressed outside of Yuletide. The simple five-point star has evolved, with designs becoming more intricate and customized.
“Our peak season is from September to December while January is our lean time. But sometimes we also have clients who request for lanterns during the summer. Some may still be unaware, but lantern making can be done all year round,” he said.
Flores, Mark Niño, and Byron believe that the Giant Lantern Festival will keep going beyond pandemic, that the annual tradition will continue to showcase their masterpieces and uplift the spirit of every Filipino.
The 2021 Giant Lantern Festival will be held on various social media platforms via live stream through local news channel CLTV 36 on December 16. – Rappler.com