I REFUSE to believe that the San Fernando lantern is a tradition that is about to fade away, especially when we one relies on only one, so-called, reliable source. If oral history holds true, this year marks the 109th year of giant lantern making in the city of San Fernando, and the lantern tradition flourishes more than ever, while continuing to evolve with the times.
What do we really mean when we talk about the San Fernando lantern? What does it entail? There are a lot of queries and questions pertaining to this tradition.
For me, we should trace the origin and evolution of the San Fernando lantern tradition before jumping into conclusions about the state of its health, lest we might be guilty of making an incorrect, or inappropriate diagnosis.
To recall our local oral history, which has been continually passed on to six generations and counting, Francisco Estanislao of Barangay Santa Lucia was said to have created a lantern that was bigger than usual in 1908. He reputedly used coco cloth, bamboo frames and carbide lamps for his creation, an innovation in what was already existing as a tradition called lubenas, a local version of the lantern procession that has religious roots.
Since then, the giant lantern tradition has evolved in a lot of ways. In terms of materials, carbide lamps have given way to incandescent light bulbs, and LED bulbs in contemporary times. Coco cloth has been replaced by a slew of materials used to cover the lanterns, from Japanese paper to Capiz, to Fiberglass resin. Manual play of lights in the olden times is now unheard of, given the innovations which include switch boards, winners, rotors, and computerized sequencers.
The lantern tradition which used to be linked strongly to religious origins has become more of a secular, cultural spectacle which is what we know today as the Giant Lantern Festival. Further it has given birth to a commercial lantern industry, starting in the 1960s, which paved the way for the lanterns that adorn our streets and homes here and abroad. The commercial lantern industry of San Fernando distinctly evolved, away from its giant lantern roots, with its own pool of talented craftsmen turned entrepreneurs. From singular lantern pieces to institutional contracts, our San Fernando lantern enterprises are maxed out in meeting the market demands. The industry has been duplicated in nearby provinces such as Tarlac and Cavite.
Today, giant lantern making and lantern making enterprises are not mutually exclusive categories. Giant lantern maker Teddy Aguilar works as a tricycle driver, Edmar David is an electrician, Florante Parilla is a house painter, and David Sanchez is both a plumber and tricycle driver. Several families of Dolores such as the Garcias and Paras have made their fortunes through lantern making. Meanwhile, there are giant lantern greats who have also successfully launched their own lantern enterprises such as Roland Quiambao, Arnel Flores, Erning Quiwa and his sons Eric and Arvin, to name a few.
Giant lantern making is more alive than ever, with more competing giants and new barangays participating for the first time. Commercial lantern making is flourishing, while some lantern makers seemingly produce more LED rope decors than ever, actual counts of capiz, fiberglass, polyvinyl plastic, and even handmade paper lanterns following designs of old are greater than ever. Still, this doesn't mean that we rest on our laurels and stop patronizing our very own local designers. When Kapampangans fail to sustain both the festival and the industry, that will be the death of our tradition.