There’s nothing like listening to a story from someone who’d actually been in the story himself.  So even though I have read and heard about the history of Pampanga lanterns a number of times already, I couldn’t pass up on the privilege to hear it from the Giant Lantern Festival Hall of Famer himself, Mr. Rolando Quiambao.

According to the 4-time champion lantern maker, back in the day, candles were used to light up the path for people joining the festival parade.  To protect the fire from waning, paper were used to cover the candle holders.  Eventually, people began to use colored papers and every year they made them bigger and better.  And the rest they say, is history.

Today, the Pampanga Christmas Lantern (Parul Sampernandu) is recognized internationally. The annual Giant Lantern Festival competition, locally known as Ligligan Parul, is one of the most well-attended event in the region.  Every year, people gather to support the lantern entry from each barangay.  These gigantic lanterns can be as huge as 16 feet and are made up of thousands of light bulbs attached to multiple rotors.

I have been an expectator for a number of years and I must say that it’s pure entertainment to watch these lights dance to Christmas tunes and other upbeat songs.  But as a blogger, I’ve also been given a chance to witness what happens behind each lantern during a competition and it’s a whole different story.

The amount of effort given to maneuver each rotor for the lights to be able to ‘dance’ along each tune is as enormous as the lanterns themselves.  Rotor operators are often drenched in sweat and more often than not, get cuts and burns from maneuvering these machines.  It takes passion and unparalleled dedication to continuously do this all for the love of the festival.

What’s more amusing are the faces you see from the operators beaming with pride and joy despite the exhaustion.  Understanding what happens behind every competition made me appreciate these lanterns more and the amount of respect I have for each operator is on a whole new level.

During our visit to RolRen’s Lanterns and General Merchandise through the media tour organized by the San Fernando Tourism Office, we also learned what makes the Parul Sampernandu distinct from other lanterns in the country.  At first glance it may look just like any other lantern, but a Pampanga Parul is actually made up of 4 distinct parts.  These are: The Tambor (center of the lantern).  The Siko-Siko (the sharp and often triangular shape that comes after the center piece).  The Palimbun (the round design that wraps the first 2 parts). And the Puntetas (the intricate outer design we see in each parul).  The Parul Sampernandu is often elaborate, vibrant, and almost over the top.  Characteristics that mirror the colorful and happy culture of the Kapampangans.

In a time where everything is made digital, Mr. Quiambao has made it his advocacy to keep the tradition of lantern making in Pampanga alive.  The process may seem imposing but the time spent and effort given to master a single parul is a true testament of authentic ingenuity and how committed the Kapampangans are to these craft.

The Giant Lantern Festival 2017 is set on December 17 – 18, 2016 at Robinson’s Starmills Pampanga.  Here’s the complete schedule of activities: