The Brightest and Biggest Stars of Pampanga’s Giant Lantern Festival

This year, on December 15, Filipinos and tourists alike would once again be able to witness a tradition that has survived for over a century: Pampanga’s Giant Lantern Festival, also known locally as Ligligan Parul.

Pictured above: Mr. Arnel Flores, head lantern maker of Brgy. Telabastagan, Pampanga, poses infront of his twenty feet high giant lantern currently in construction. It consists of 10,000 bulbs.

Every year, as many as eleven barangays in Pampanga compete for the honor of being awarded as the builders of the best and the brightest giant parol (Filipino lantern).

Photo from Wikipedia

It is believed that the earliest mention of the lantern festival was during the 1930s, but Pampanga has been producing lanterns from as early as 1908. Because of this, the city has established itself as the undisputed Christmas Capital of the Philippines.

As a young adult who is used to a fast-paced world where everything seems to be both instant yet constantly changing, being able to talk to people who come together for the same passion and purpose every year is fascinating to me.

Thanks to the sponsorship of Region 3’s Department of Tourism organized with Travel Itinerary Philippines, I was able to listen to the stories of a few of Pampanga’s best giant lantern makers.

“Not to brag but, for a giant lantern, simply participating would cost you around Php500,000 ($USD10,000). And if you’re really planning to really compete, you’ll easily spend 1 Million pesos ($USD20,000).”

“After that, you could reuse the parts so that in the following year, you would only spend around Php300,000 to Php400,000 ($USD6,000 to $USD8,0000).”

Mr. Rolando Quiambao, head giant lantern maker for Brgy. Del Pilar, explains.

Mr. Rolando Quiambao

A giant lantern in its final stages of construction

“We do not focus on how much was spent because we are after the honor. It’s a tradition so we don’t focus on the money.”

Pointing at a parol, he also says “We’re not even sure how we do this, maybe it’s really just in our blood.”

Tradition and honor does seem to be the major contributing forces for Kapampangans as subsidies as much as Php300,000 are given by the provincial government and anyone from the barangays are free to chip in or help with labor – all with the purpose of keeping the Giant Lantern Festival show going.

But aside from that, it all boils down to how close to their heart the craft actually is.

Mr. Arnel Flores shares how lanterns have changed his life and why, even when it proves to be too difficult to join the festival due to life’s many demands, he still can’t seem to say no to it.

“As early as 8 years old, I’ve been trained to build a parol. When I started my own lantern business at 18, my first client was Jollibee, I dropped out of school to go full-time. Why you ask? Because it was the first time I was able to feed myself three times a day.”

“Even when I lost in the 2015 competition, I gained a lot of clients.” He adds.

And when he mentions clients, it isn’t limited to Filipino natives. Thanks to passionate lantern makers and Philippine embassies and consulates, Kapampangan lanterns have traveled to Singapore, Switzerland, USA, Brazil, Kenya, Italy, and China.

As to the future of Pampanga’s giant lantern craft in general, this is what these respected craftsmen have to say.

“It evolves and continues to evolve. I’ve been making lanterns for more than thirty years and the craft is still challenging – I still learn something new everytime.” Arnel shares.

“No books have been written and no school teaches this. All we can do is pass it from one hand to another. The system changes depending on the new generation,” says Rolando.

When asked if it’s difficult to encourage Pampanga’s new generation of giant lantern makers, Rolando doesn’t deny it.

“Kids nowadays are all glued to those,” he points to our smart phones. “- which is why I advocate that this is added to ALS (Alternative Learning System) so that young ones could try it out. Maybe someone is not good at academics or sports, but they may find their calling making lanterns.”

“I want them to have some place to belong to. I want to give them an opportunity.”

Rolando and Arnel were not the only people we were able to meet during this tour. We were also able to talk to head rotor makers, head electricians, and a lot of people who are helping make their barangay’s lanterns the best.

I have been having a self proclaimed quarter life crisis lately – unsure of all the things I want to do or have been doing – but connecting with these people who, undeniably, are all in this because of love and passion, makes the world – especially Pampanga – seem like a brighter, better place. Because of this, I am hopeful.

The Kapampangans, each and everyone who have helped keep their beautiful tradition alive, are the true stars of Pampanga’s Giant Lantern Festival.

-N


Want to visit Pampanga but don’t know what to expect? 

Check out my heritage tour experience here:

PAMPANGA HERITAGE TOUR: LET’S TRAVEL BACK IN TIME!


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Catch Ligligan Parul on December 15 at the City of San Fernando, Pampanga!

To coordinate tours for it (or for any other dates), reach out to the official Pampanga-based tour operator partner, M.A.G Travel and Tours, below:

  • (02) 359 8699 / (02) 499 5193
  • 0917 631 1549
  • 0920 117 2333
  • 0923 425 0888