The following is an article by MC Canlas who is the small business assistance specialist and community strategist at the Filipino American Development Foundation. MC Canlas is also the founder and coordinator of the annual Parol Lantern Festival.
The 7th Annual Parol Lantern Festival will take place on December 12, 2009 at Jessie Square (east plaza of St. Patrick's Church) in San Francisco.
The Bayanihan Community Center in San Francisco holds free parol-making workshops and rehearsals on Fridays from 5-8pm. For more information go to bayanihancc.org or call 415.239.0249.
All are welcome to participate.
What We Should Know About Parol
By MC Canlas
Origin of the Word
Christmas lantern is the common translation for parol or parul which originated from the Spanish word farol which means lantern. (The other Spanish words for lantern are linterna, fanal, lampara and faro.) The P spelling instead of F is an appropriation of Spanish word to make it distinctly Filipino as in palda from falda (skirt), pista from fiesta (feast) and prutas from fruta (fruit).
In the Philippines not all parols are lantern. A lantern is a portable case with transparent or translucent sides for holding and protecting a light. And not all lanterns are parols. Filipinos do not refer to the popular Chinese and Japanese lanterns as parol. Although not all parols are lighted or illuminated they however symbolize light and brightness as in the five- point star parol.
The Christmas symbolism of parol is the bright lone star of Bethlehem that guided the Three Wise Men (Magi) to the manger of the newly-born King -Jesus Christ. The word for bright star in Filipino (Tagalog) is bituin or tala, in Spanish it is estrella. I wonder why the Filipinos never refer to this Christmas symbol as tala or estrella, and parol became a generic term to refer for Christmas lantern (Christmas ornament case with light) and ornament with star-based design and variation.
Origin of the Parol Tradition
It is a common practice in the Philippines to hang parol to adorn houses, offices, stores, lampposts, and public places during the holiday season. The hanging of lighted parol according to some writers was originally designed and used to provide light and guide the local folks on their way to the church for the novena (nine days) of "Misa de Gallo" or Mass of the Rooster, dawn masses.
However, if we read the origin of Misa de Gallo or Simbang Gabi, as written in the Christmas program at St. Patrick's Church: "Introduced in the Philippines by the missionaries about the 16th century, these novena of masses from December 16th to 24th, were celebrated in the early morning hours, when the roosters crow to announce the coming of the new day (hence misa de gallo) for a very practical reason. Filipinos were farmers or fisherman who either began or ended their day at dawn." What is then the parol for church goers - the local folks, farmers and fishermen - who happened to be the most knowledgeable of their way in their locality even in the darkest night?
My version of the origin of the parol tradition is connected to the celebration of fiesta or feast of the town's or village's patron saint. Christmas is considered the feast of all feasts. The usual practice of local folks of hanging banderetas (i.e. small flags, banneret or bunting) to decorate the streets and houses during fiesta is similar to the hanging of parol in house windows to make known of the coming of baby Jesus Christ.
The Origin of the Parol Stroll or Lighting the Walkway
Another common practice in some towns and cities is a religious procession on the night following the nine-day early morning masses or simbang gabi, also known as Misa de Gallo. In that particular evening the local folks march around the town plaza, extending in nearby barrios, carrying candles and lighted parols and usually accompanied by musikong bumbong or local brass band. It starts and ends in front of the Church courtyard.
This particular tradition may have roots in Spanish Mexico when they do their luminaria; a votive candle set into a small, decorative paper bag weighted with sand and placed in a row with others along a walkway, driveway, or rooftop as a holiday decoration. Luminaria is also called farolito or small lantern.
Parol Making as a Folk Arts and Craft
The basic parol design is a five-pointed star inside of a circle, usually made of bamboo stick, multi-colored crepe paper or papel de japon and cellophane. Through the years the parol making has become a folk craft, school art project, a cottage industry and now a Philippine export. There are many parol in the country of various forms, shapes, sizes and materials they are made-from. This Philippine folk art and craft, as we know it, has various roots and influences - native or indigenous, Spanish, American, religious, commercial, rural and urban.
The famous and spectacular giant parols, which range from 10 feet to 20 feet in diameter, are product of Pampanga folk arts tradition. San Fernando clans from different barrios are known for their parol artistry for generations that during Christmas the showcase "Ligligan ng Parul" awed tourists and visitors. The Philippine Department of Tourism has made this annual gigantic parol festival among the principal tourist destinations in the country. San Fernando Parols, which are made of paper, plastic and capiz, contribute to the country's ailing economy; parol are popular among balikbayan and are exported in many countries.
Ligligan Parul and Lantern Parade
There are two popular Christmas lantern festivals in the Philippines that has influenced the holding of this year San Francisco Parol Festival on the 5th of December in South of Market; the world renowned "Ligligang Parul" of San Fernando City in Pampanga and the University of the Philippines Lantern Parade which is held annually on the third week of December in UP's Diliman campus in Quezon City in the Philippines.
For more than half a century, since the transfer of UP Campus from Padre Faura to Diliman, this colorful U.P. Lantern Parade and Christmas tradition has enlivened the U.P. community. It aptly brightens Diliman (the word Diliman means to darken in Tagalog.). With the Christmas lantern or "parol" as its principal motif the Lantern Parade through the years has blossomed into a spectacular venue for creative expression, social criticism and political activism among the different members of the U.P. community.
The San Fernando Giant Lantern Festival has become a major tourist destination (see this year's calendar of activities) from a humble beginning of an inter-village (barangay) Parol showcase held in the town's poblacion on Christmas Eve.
Parol Making Promotes Bayanihan Spirit
The traditional image of bayanihan is a group of local folks carrying a house on their shoulder. For Filipinos it means working together, neighbors helping each other, a collective endeavor, and forging unity for a community project. In Pampanga and in Diliman, parol and lantern making is a collective endeavor of members of baranggay and organization. In America it is not easy to describe this image of Bayanihan to non-Filipinos and even among Filipino Americans. With the rehabilitation of the former Delta Hotel into a Bayanihan House and Bayanihan Community Center on Sixth Street and Mission Street in South of Market, the bigger challenge is how relate the ancient concept of Bayanihan into contemporary experience in the South of Market Neighborhood. The Filipino American Development Foundation, the proponent of Bayanihan Community Center, is proud to sponsor and organize of parol-making workshops in October, November and early December in conjunction to the Christmas Lantern / Parol Festival. From this years' experience we can say that parol-making is indeed a bayanihan; it brings families, friends, relatives, neighbors, and people from all walks of life together for common project.
Parol the Quintessential Filipino Symbol
Parol is perhaps the quintessential Filipino symbol that distinguishes the Philippines with the rest of the world. Although it is associated with Christmas, the symbolism and significance of parol in Filipino culture is profoundly comparable to the so called national symbol or Pambansang Sagisag such as Barong Tagalog or even much greater than our ethnic group in America is popularly known for such as Tinikling (bamboo dance), lumpia (egg roll) and adobo.
The source of inspiration of the folk arts of parol is the liwanag at dilim, (the lightness and the darkness) which I think is also the inspiration of the Katipunan's revolutionary emblems and Philippine national flag. It is the radiating symbol of the sun and its rays, the enduring effect of the light to the dark. Hence, parol's five-pointed star inside of a circle, embellished with tassels (buntot or tails), the central figure is not a star but a sun and the message is to bring light to the gloomy surrounding. The parol is a fount of light, a sign of hope amidst the "darkness" in the world or in one's being or location.
"Darkness" in the Filipino context connotes tyranny, oppression, poverty, graft and corruption, discrimination, human rights violations, immorality, illness, and hardships in the family. Darkness in the family is when one member is sick or the family is fragmented, troubled or in pain as in "ang sakit ng kalingkingan ay damdam ng buong katawan" (The pain of the little finger is felt by the whole or entire body.) The problem of one becomes the problem of everyone. This is what we call malasakit or concern and care for each other.
The three stars in the Philippine national flag stand for the three island groups of the archipelago -Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao while sun and the eight rays symbolizes kalayaan, the light of liberty, and the regions who first rose and revolted against the enemy, principal source of darkness in the native land.
There is an historical account about the 1896 Philippine Revolution; Katipuneros were asked to put lighted oil lamp near the windows of their houses to convey "safe passage" or "refuge" to their other members who move from place to place in the wee hours of the night so as not to get the attention of their enemy.
The deeper meaning is shared identity and shared responsibility. Hindi ka nag-iisa. You are not alone and we are with you. Perhaps the hanging of parol in front windows during the holiday season encourages other people to feel upon seeing the parol that they are not alone "hindi ka nag-iisa" and "we are one in faith and identity."
Thus, when I assert that the Parol is the quintessential Filipino symbol, I am actually illuminating a point: the parol is the embodiment of the sun, sunrays, and stars found in the Philippine flag which is the emblem of our people's historic and continuing struggle and redemption, the liwanag at dilim. Parol making upholds and rekindles bayanihan spirit which is an important ingredient in community building and empowerment.
For many of us in America, the hanging of parol in front windows, brightens our house, enlightens the world, brings hope and joy to all, and we're proud to be Filipinos. Parol Festival is distinctly Filipino that the entire Christian world can easily and without doubt relate with.