Giant Lanterns lights up Robinsons Starmills anew

It takes at least 8,500 to as many as 10,500 bulbs to light up just one of those giant Christmas lanterns that San Fernando, Pampanga has become famous for, earning for it the prized sobriquet, “Christmas Capital of the Philippines.” While festivals in other places in the country were born out of a local industry, in San Fernando, the giant lantern-making industry was born out of a festival, the San Fernando Giant Lantern Festival or Ligligan Parul, as it’s called.
Held exclusively at Robinsons Starmills Pampanga grounds for nearly 4 years now, the festival is the culmination of a year-long preparation and dedicated giant lantern making in the barangays of San Fernando.
The Giant Lantern Festival this year will be held on December 15 at Robinsons Starmills mall. As its partner in promoting Kapampangan culture by hosting not only the annual Giant Lantern Festival, but also other Kapampangan festivals such the “Pyestang Tugak” or Frog Festival and the “Sinukwan, which honors the god of the ancient Kapampangans and highlights Kapampangan cultural diversity, Robinsons Starmills, which is strategically located just across the San Fernando exit from the North Luzon Expressway, was named by the local tourism office in Pampanga as the “Home of Kapampangan Festivals”.
The Giant Lantern Festival was held for the first time at the Robinsons Starmills mall in San Fernando, Pampanga, in December 2008, with only 9 barangays participating. This year, 11 barangays will be joining the competition, with defending champion, barangay Santa Lucia, heading the list. If they win again this year, they would have won three years in a row, which will earn for them a coveted place in the competition’s Hall of Fame.
History of Lantern-Making in Pampanga
Giant lantern making started in 1908, in barangay Santa Lucia in San Fernando. According to oral history, Francisco Estanislao, a local craftsman, pioneered in the tradition. The simple five-point star shaped parol made with bamboo and crepe paper has since evolved into giant lanterns made with steel wire frames and covered with multi-colored vinyl plastic. Other materials have also been used such as capiz shells and fiberglass.
The heart of the giant lanterns, however, is its network of bulbs strategically arranged inside its cavity and engineered to light up to the accompaniment of lively music, traditionally played by a brass band. The spectacle of the giant lanterns’ dancing lights has become a major attraction in the annual competition among the giant lantern makers from the different barangays, dating back to the 1950s.
According to Robinsons Land Corporation’s (RLC) general manager for Commercial Centers Divisions general manager Arlene G. Magtibay, the excitement of hosting this annual event lies on the fact that Robinsons Malls is able to showcase both talent and Filipino ingenuinity in one big and popular event which most endearing to Filipinos from all walks of life. “The Filipino Parol is genuinely Pinoy as it symbolizes our love of family and God. It’s a permanent Christmas fixture in every household in the Philippines,” adds Magtibay.
There will also be a Giant Lantern Display exclusive at Robinsons Starmills Pampanga from December 16, 2012 to January 03, 2013, at 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., except on Dec. 24, 2012. Witness these amazing Giant Lanterns and enjoy outlet shopping and great Kapampangan cuisine all in one roof – at Robinsons Starmills Pampanga, located at the San Fernando, Pampanga Exit of the North Luzon Expressway.
Tradition preserved
Ernesto David Quiwa belongs to the David-Quiwa family, which had been making giant lanterns in barangay Santa Lucia for generations. He started making lanterns when he was 12 years old. He is now 65 years old. He was taught by his uncle, Ernesto recalls.
It’s the same way for many other giant lantern makers. Alan Quiwa, the 27 year old son of barangay captain Herman Quiwa, started by doing odd tasks such as bringing the electrical tape to the linemen and observing them at work. He was ten years old. He learned that giant lantern making is no simple operation. It has many steps and it involves different skills. Indeed, it takes a barangay to make a giant lantern.
It all starts in the imagination of the designer. It takes four welders at least one week or more, depending on the intricacy of the design, just to make the framing, Ernesto explains. It can take as long as two months for the electrical works to be done. Then the design is cut on the material that will serve as the ‘skin’ and pasted on the frame.
The sequence of light and music spells the big difference, Ernesto says. The rotors, which are the ingenious switching system that enables the play of lights, are manually operated. One giant lantern can have about eight rotors and as many as 10 to 15 operators. Imagine a giant lantern, about twenty feet in diameter, weighing not less than two tons so that it requires a ten-wheeler to transport it from the place of manufacture to the venue of the competition. It’s a spectacle. The synchronized choreography of the lights to accompanying music showcases the superior skill and sheer genius of the giant lantern makers and operators.
The lantern’s basic star shape has evolved into other designs such as angels, roses, snowflakes, and even the face of Santa Claus. But for Ernesto Quiwa, there will always be the star. The so-called ‘Cardinal’ design, for example, has poinsettia leaves and Christmas bells as part of the design, but at the center is still the star. “The star is important as the symbol of Christmas,” Ernesto says. It represents the Star of Bethlehem which led the Three Magis to the newborn baby Jesus, which is what Christmas is all about. ●
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