Pampanga’s giant Christmas lanterns dazzle for front-liners | Inquirer News
Holiday display 2nd year into the pandemic

Pampanga’s giant Christmas lanterns dazzle for front-liners

/ 05:17 AM December 18, 2021

LIGHTS OF HOPE On the second year of the coronavirus pandemic, the City of San Fernando in Pampanga continues its tradition of making giant lanterns, which originated from Christmas dawn Masses 113 years ago. —TONETTE OREJAS

CITY OF SAN FERNANDO — Seven villages here have sustained the 113-year-old tradition of making giant Christmas lanterns in this Pampanga capital despite the COVID-19 pandemic, with artisans thanking front-liners and urging vaccinations through their mammoth creations.

Among the city’s 35 villages, Telabastagan, San Juan, Bulaon, Sta. Lucia, Calulut, Sto. Niño and San Nicolas persisted with the tradition that began in Sta. Lucia in 1908, exhibiting their works in the Ligligan Parul (Giant Lantern Festival) that opened on Thursday and was livestreamed on social media. Each participating village received P142,000 from the city government while residents donated any amount they could to give to breathe new life on recycled old lanterns.


The festival had its origins in the nine-day Christmas dawn Masses where lanterns illuminated the processions of the images of saints.

The first recorded giant lantern was made in 1908 by Francisco Estanislao, a salt vendor, who had taught generations of lantern makers.


The current crop of lantern makers have computerized the syncing of lights and sounds but the older craftsmen preferred to stick with the unique contraption called a rotor.

The magic of a lantern’s blinking and dazzling lights comes from a set of rotors—a local invention made of aluminum barrels connected to a source of electricity, with hairpins or bicycle rods as contact points. The exposed parts of the barrels determine which bulbs go on and off in a particular design.

No competition

During the switch on event, health protocols and the threat of the highly transmissible Omicron variant limited the number of live audience to less than a hundred, while an estimated 1,000 people watched from afar inside their parked vehicles or behind fences at the back of Robinson’s Starmills, which has hosted the event without fail for 13 years.

Like in 2020, organizers canceled the competition and scaled down the event to a performance of three rounds: a solo act for each participant, by pairs, and all together in what is called a “royal rumble.”

Spectators witnessed the many patterns of lights as the lanterns danced in sync to a medley of songs selected by the lantern makers or organizers.

The rotors and the lanterns are borne on trucks used to haul sugarcane from farms to mills here.

“These sparkling giants pay tribute to our valiant front-liners [in our responses to the COVID-19 pandemic]. These lanterns bring us joy, hope and courage that we need to overcome the health crisis and transit to the new normal,” Mayor Edwin Santiago remarked during the program’s opening.


Arlene Magtibay, senior vice president for the business unit of Robinsons Malls, lauded the lantern makers for being “undeterred by the pandemic.”


The lantern of Telabastagan, made by Arnel Flores, first displayed the Philippines’ colors and let out this message: “We rise and heal as one.”

The Sto. Niño piece by Mark Flores showed a big syringe with the reminder: “Be safe. Be vaccinated. Love your life.”Florante Parilla’s Bulaon lantern urged people to “Stay Safe” and wished everyone a “Merry Christmas.”

Byron Bondoc’s lantern for Sta. Lucia, the champion in 2019, thanked front-liners and appealed to the unvaccinated to get inoculated.

The lanterns of Calulut, San Juan and San Nicolas gave no messages but blasted mesmerizing geometric designs.

City tourism officer Ching Pangilinan said lanterns for household display were enjoying brisker sales this time around because the declining numbers of COVID-19 cases enabled the people to move around.

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TAGS: Christmas Lantern, COVID-19, frontliners, Pampanga, pandemic
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