Updated: Dec 24, 2018
By Sarah Hidalgo
In the last week, you have probably either heard about, cheered, or cried over Catriona Gray's crowning as Miss Universe. While all the talk has mostly been about her stunning lava-inspired evening gown, her national costume is also a gorgeous tribute to the Filipino culture. A cultural icon symbolizing a glimpse of joy and hope amidst darkness, the parol she carries on her back is signifies the start of the Christmas season and is an important
piece of Filipino history.
As soon as the "-ber" months begin, the Christmas season is already in full swing for Filipinos. During this season, you may see colorful star-shaped lanterns shimmering on every Filipino household's front porch or along the busy streets of cities and villages in the Philippines. These lanterns, called parols, come in every shape, size and color. Beautiful and often intricately designed, the parol is much more than a simple Christmas decoration.
Just as important as Christmas trees are in Western culture, the parol is the most iconic symbol of the Filipino Christmas spirit. The history of the parol began in the 16th century when Spanish missionaries first brought Christianity to the islands. Churchgoers would use these lanterns to light their way through the dark as they made their way to the dawn mass during the nine days of Simbang Gabi. As they faithfully attended service each morning, the parol symbolizes the triumph of light over darkness and Filipinos’ goodwill during Christmas season. Later on in 1908, Francisco Estanislao, a salt vendor from Bacolor, Pampanga, created the traditional parol lantern that you know today. The word parol came from the word farol, the Spanish word for "lantern". People began hanging parols outside their houses to commemorate the Star of Bethlehem, which guided the Three Wise Men to the newly-born baby Jesus.
Parols are traditionally made from bamboo sticks, covered with colored pieces of crèpe or rice paper and illuminated by a candle or coconut oil lamp. Nowadays, modern parols are electrically powered and can be made from any material imaginable, such as shells, beads, feathers and even plastic drinking straws. Many are made from smooth, translucent capiz shells, which make the parol more durable. During the Christmas season, parol-making competitions are popular in many Filipino communities; there is even an annual Giant Lantern Festival held in Pampanga which attracts craftsmen from across the islands. Here in the states, workshops, parol parades, and competitions are held in Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles every year.
Whether you are traveling or staying home for the holidays, seeing a parol hanging on a windowsill is a reminder that there's a kababayan around. Spending time with loved ones and keeping old traditions can be one of the best ways that people stay in touch with their roots. This Christmas season, MAFA board wishes you a safe and relaxing break with your families, and that your own traditions will bring you some hope and joy through all your future endeavors. ♦︎