Pampanga’s giant Christmas lantern fest returns with 10,000 spectators
CITY OF SAN FERNANDO, Pampanga, Philippines — The show of lights and colors of handcrafted giant Christmas lanterns competing with each other in this capital city of Pampanga province drew some 10,000 spectators on Saturday night, as the event returned with its usual festivity before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
Mayor Vilma Caluag thanked viewers who came in person or watched it online as it was streamed live by regional television channel CLTV36.
“We have fully resumed this unique, wonderful, and world-famous Christmas tradition. It must be sustained because it inspires hope in us to go on and move to progress,” Caluag said at the start of the program of the “Ligligan Parul” (Giant Lantern Festival) at Robinsons Starmills here on Saturday night.
City police chief Lt. Col. Preston Bagangan estimated the crowd to have reached 10,000 toward the end of the event. Still, it did not come close to the 50,000 who used to see the annual event during the prepandemic years.
In 2020 and 2021, the seven villages of Telabastagan, San Juan, Bulaon, Santa Lucia, Calulut, Santo Niño, and San Nicolas persisted with the tradition but suspended the competition. The Giant Lantern Festival went solely online in 2020, then online and in-person in 2021.
Now in its 114th year, the artisans who joined the festival expressed through the dazzling lights of their lanterns their wish of restarting from the COVID-19 pandemic, their search for peace, and their hope for respect for every gender.
The Giant Lantern Festival Foundation and the city government provided a subsidy of P300,000 to each of the 10 villages so they could produce the lanterns with the donations of residents.
The cash prizes were also doubled to P300,000, P200,000, and P100,000.
Seven judges, including Poland Ambassador Jaroslaw Szczepankiewicz, Korean festivals director Park Young-sik and Filipino multimedia visual artist Abdulmari Imao Jr., chose the winners based on their interplay of lights, color, and music, designs, colors combination, and X-factor (noteworthy special quality).
The entry of Barangay San Juan emerged as the champion among the mammoth creations—which were at least 6.1 meters (20 feet) in diameter and fitted with 8,000 to 12,000 lightbulbs—that competed in three rounds of the festival.
Mark Niño Flores, the youngest lantern maker at 27, gave San Juan its first championship in 30 or so years, according to Ma. Lourdes Carmella Jade Pangilinan, the city tourism officer.
Flores, who said he began learning the craft at 8 years old, created a lantern whose lights first danced to the soundtrack of the hit South Korean television series “Squid Game” before giving way to Yuletide tunes as it unveiled the messages of “Lord, Heal our Land,” “Merry Christmas” and ending it with a playful image of Santa Claus.
Barangays Telabastagan and Sta. Lucia placed first and second runners-up. Flores’ father and mentor Arnel put the image of the Holy Rosary on Telabastagan’s lantern. As this year’s defending champion, the Sta. Lucia lantern’s light designs danced to a medley that started with “Dynamite” of global boy band BTS and later showed the Nativity scene, flashing the words “Lord bless us.”
The lanterns of Del Pilar, Sto. Niño, San Nicolas, Bulaon, Dolores, Pandaras, and Calulut failed to get the judges’ nods but drew cheers especially when the showdowns played to the all-time favorite Japanese theme song of the anime television show “Voltes V.”