Households once again display colorful and towering lanterns or parol, regarded as a symbol of hope, as the Christmas season in the Philippines – the longest to be celebrated in the world – kicks off.

Many Filipinos flock to San Fernando, Pampanga, the Parol Capital of the Philippines, to witness colorful and stunning displays of lanterns on the streets and in exhibits.

One faculty member from the College of Fine Arts and Design (CFAD) is using his expertise to assemble locals’ cherished products.

Raphael Emmanuelle Kalaw curated an exhibit featuring the storied lantern tradition in Pampanga’s Giant Lantern and Information Center that opened as early as May this year.

The center is located on a 5,000-square-meter land home to the former Paskuhan Village. Inside are capiz lantern chandeliers hanging at the ceiling and an exhibit of adjacent panel displays chronicling the city’s lantern history and parol-making tradition.

Visitors look at a giant lantern displayed at CFAD instructor Raphael Kalaw’s exhibit at the Giant Lantern and Information Center in San Fernando, Pampanga. (Photo from CSFP Tourism Office)

Works of lantern industry giant Mario Datu and Kapampangan visual artists Rafael Maniago and Noel Lopez Catacutan, among others, grace the exhibit.

The giant lanterns of San Fernando have always piqued Kalaw’s interest, making it his thesis subject in college and graduate school.

“I did a coffee table book using photography as a way of documentation [for my college thesis]. From there, doon ko nakilala ‘yung giant lanterns. Eventually, nakilala ko ‘yung mga taga-San Fernando and City Tourism Office,” he told the Varsitarian.

Kalaw had grown fond of parols since he was a teenager and continued to do so when he entered college.

Noong high school kasi kami, gumagawa kami ng mga parol. I just fell in love with the craft,” Kalaw said.

In 2017, he visited Pampanga to look for a possible thesis topic when he passed by the Paskuhan Village and saw the giant lanterns that caught his eye.

“Imagine mo around 16 ft siya [dati], ngayon 20 ft na. Ganoon kalaki ‘yung diameter ng lantern. Tapos ‘yung mga bulbs niya, from 8,000 to 10,000. Imagine mo kung gaano katagal and complicated siya gawin,” he said.

San Fernando’s lantern tradition began in 1904 with a competition and evolved in 1931 after electricity found its way to the city.

Makikita mo ‘yung story ng isang Fernandino and ‘yung transition ng city and [‘yung] growth [ng] history, mae-equate mo siya sa growth ng lanterns. Nag-evolve rin ‘yung lantern with the development of the city,” Kalaw said.

His thesis centered on the parol as a classic cultural heritage of the Kapampangans. He said he visited lantern makers in their houses to document giant lanterns for the exhibit.

Ang ganda kasi ‘yung [center], isa sa mga first step kung saan pwede mo i-converge and pagsama-samahin ‘yung lantern culture,” he said.

Kalaw said his work in the exhibit is a way of “giving back” to the people of San Fernando for helping him with his paper and a step forward to preserving the giant lantern tradition of the Kapampangans.


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