CHRISTMAS IS IN THE AIR. Now that the air is nippy and the mood is festive, setting up our home to match the Christmas season has gained momentum. Our old Christmas tree has been put up as early as mid-October and additional trimmings and lighting were added later that same month. However, we lost our old parol in the flood of 2009.
Searching for the best star-lantern for our home, we went to Farmers Market in Cubao and in stalls along Commonwealth Avenue where dazzling parols have been up for sale in makeshift stalls since the ber (Septem-BER, Octo-BER and so one) months began.
STAR OF BETHLEHEM. It has been written in the book of St. Matthew that the bright star seen during the first Christmas Eve led the three wise men of the east to a manger in Bethlehem. In 1603, Johannes Kepler suggested the Bethlehem Star was a planetary conversion of Saturn and Jupiter in the constellation of Pisces. A quarterly journal of the Royal Astronomical Society theorized that the Biblical star was probably a giant stellar explosion caused by a dying star.
PAROL TRADITION. This kind astronomical event has been observed in several different occasions through out history. However, it does not matter to Filipinos that scientific findings speculate the strange heavenly body associated with the Nativity of Jesus was not a star. What’s important for Filipino is keeping on with the tradition of hanging out a parol to bring the Star of Bethlehem spirit into every home.
PAROL EVERYWHERE. For the Filipinos, the parol symbolizes the star of Bethlehem. Thus, by the time the Christmas season begins in the country as early as September, stalls selling parols of innumerable shapes, sizes, colors, materials, and intricacies mushroom along streets, highways, and sidewalks, in malls, church patios and town plazas, and in places where the bonus-rich Filipinos pass by. In December, parols are seen hung on windows and lamp posts, adding to the light and color of a city joyfully decorated for the birthday of Christ.
A FILIPINO FOLK ART. Fiesta authority Alejandro Roces suggests that the star lantern is a Filipino innovation of the Mexican piñata. The piñata originally came from Renaissance Italy where during festive occasions, pineapple-shaped pots were filled with sweets and suspended on the ceiling and broken to enliven the celebration. The custom spread from the Italy to the Spain across the Pacific then to the Philippines via the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade.
All that is needed to make an old-fashioned parol are ten long and five short pliant bamboo sticks tied together into a five-pointed-star-frame. The colorful and translucent rice paper, is cut to fit and glued to the frame using paste made from starch. Paper tail embellishments are added into the five-pointed star. A candle or a small light bulb is placed inside the hollow parol. This uncomplicated piece of Filipino folk art was hung on windows to indicate the presence of the Christmas spirit in Filipino homes.
PAROL MAKING TRADITIONS. Parol making was then a household activity participated by each family member. It later evolved into a thriving industry particularly in the provinces of Cavite and Pampanga where colored capiz shells are cut and pieced together and installed with complicated lighting that produces a dizzying kaleidoscope effect.
In San Fernando, Pampanga, the Parol Festival is celebrated where colossal lanterns are installed with blinking and pulsating multi-colored lights that make the Christmas parol come alive.