The Christmas parol: A tradition close to Pinoys’ hearts

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By Susan Palmes-Dennis

The “S” Factor

Friday, December 13, 2013


THE ‘parol’ or Christmas lantern is a traditional Filipino Christmas decoration and it is said that a Filipino home isn’t complete without this ubiquitous ornament come the Yuletide season.

Obviously the lantern was used to light the way for churchgoers before the advent of electricity.

It is originally made of thin bamboo frames and covered with colored cellophane or with rice paper.

According to Wikipedia, the design of the parol evolved from the five-pointed paper star lantern originally crafted by an artisan named Francisco Estanislao in 1928.

Estanislao’s creation was made of bamboo strips covered with papél de japón (Japanese paper), illuminated by a candle or kalburo (carbide).

The parol had two tails that looked like the rays of a star.

Traditionally, paróls have a star-shaped framework made of bamboo sticks which are then covered by colored pieces of either Japanese paper or crêpe paper.

Materials for parols range from plastic, shells, glass, beads, foil, feathers, hemp, leaves, seeds, soft drink straws, wood and even metal.

Even here at North Carolina, Fil-American communities display the parol or lanterns in homage to the tradition back home.

I knew of two people who were proficient in making parols.

One is Joannes Aves, the immediate past 1st vice president of the Filipino-American Communities of the Carolinas (FACC).

Joannes, who was taught by his late father to make parols in his elementary grades, now passed his knowledge to students of the ‘Eskwelahang Munti’ (Little Schoolhouse) last month.

He said it was a pleasure seeing the children having a good time making the parols along with their teachers, volunteers, parents and guardians.

I also had a good time making a parol since it was quite a change of pace from buying a parol from the Misamis Oriental Provincial Jail back home in Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines.

During the demonstration, Joannes started by cutting the Japanese paper into shapes, one of which was the tail of the star.

From these shapes, he assembled them slowly into the familiar Christmas star-shaped lantern that we Filipinos know and love.

The parol-making was such fun that it was extended up to Sunday School.

It was so fun I wondered why I missed doing this back in school.

Could be I wasn’t listening or I was sent on an errand by a teacher.

Joannes used materials from AC Moore.

He told me he was making parols to be sold at the Christmas party of the FACC for the benefit of the victims of typhoon Haiyan in central Philippines.

Another person who’s proficient in making parols is a kababayan from barangay Lapasan, Cagayan de Oro named Geraldyn Cabariban Jetton, who now lives in Greensboro, North Carolina.

She said she learned making parols in elementary grade.

Geraldyn a.k.a. Bebith said she uses dowel 3/13 sticks available in Walmart store where she works in lieu of bamboo sticks for her parols.

Geraldyn said she has been making lanterns for the past four years and this year she made one with a logo bearing her prayers for the Filipino victims of typhoon Haiyan.

“Every time I see lantern I am reminded of my family in the Philippines. It’s a tradition I want to hold close to my heart where ever I will be,” Geraldyn said.

I could only agree with her sentiments wholeheartedly.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on December 14, 2013.

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