First published in Tulay Monthly, Chinese-Filipino Digest 1, no. 7 (December 11, 1988): 9.
There may be Christmas trees, artiﬁcial snow, twinkling lights and mistletoe, but Christmas in the Philippines is simply not complete without the star lantern.
The use of lanterns is believed by some to have been introduced to our country by Chinese traders who did business with the people of the archipelago long before the Spaniards came.
Rice paper spheres lighted from within and six- or eight-sided lanterns made of silk were used for celebrations of birthdays, weddings, harvests and the new year. The silk was stretched out on ornate wooden frames, decorated with ﬂowers and gaily colored tassels.
These happy additions to the festivities were adapted for local use and quickly became part of native celebrations.
There are other versions of the origin of the parol. One legend has it that a Spanish soldier, inspired in a dream to preach Christianity to the natives of these islands, told the people in the town to put up lighted lanterns in their windows in order to help guide Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem.
Another version says that Filipinos told of the nativity story took it upon themselves to put a light in the window to help Mary and Joseph in their search for a place to stay.
Whatever its beginnings, the parol has become an integral part of the Philippine Christmas. From simple star-shaped lanterns made of Japanese rice paper stretched out on bamboo frames, lanterns have become complicated products with cellophane, foil, plastic and many other materials added in.
Designs too have become complicated. Even the simple ﬁve-point star has taken on many different versions. Lights are a complex network of multi-colored bulbs that dance, blink, swirl and dazzle.
But nothing beats the lantern tradition in San Fernando, Pampanga, where giant parols atop big trucks are brought out in parade. Lighting systems involve intricate electronic devises powered by electric generators. Each year, thousands of local and foreign tourists ﬂock to San Fernando for the parade, which is sometimes brought to Manila to be admired by all.
Whether big or small, simply or fancy, the Christmas lantern by the window serves as each home’s warm welcome, and each one a little replica of that star long ago that guided people to the Savior.