Philippines is considered as one of the countries celebrating Christmas on a longer period of time which actually starts when the “ber” months come. This is when Filipinos start to adorn their houses with Christmas decorations as well as streets and avenues bejeweled with colorful lanterns with blinking lights.
San Fernando, Pampanga is known for their handcrafted lanterns having intricate designs and illusion of dancing lights focusing the vibrant colors of the lantern. This made them the Christmas Capital of the Philippines. To promote and highlight the lantern industry of the city, an annual event happens every December featuring a competition of giant lanterns.
Giant Lantern Festival predecessor is “lubenas” where 2-feet in diameter lanterns were being brought around each barrio in procession throughout the nine-day novena (simbang gabi) before Christmas Eve. With the creativity and skills of the people, the event was evolved with the lanterns came bigger with intricate designs. It was in 1931 when electricity was introduced and the start of incorporating dancing lights to the “parols”.
The event is one of the most anticipated festivals in the northern part of the Philippines where tourists, either local or foreign, flock the city to witness the annual festival. I was able to join the event this year and really enjoyed my first time seeing the giant lanterns just a few meters away.
We secured a media accreditation form from the City Information Office of San Fernando for us to get closer and take better photos of the lanterns. We arrived in the city noon of December 14 and spectators were already lining up to get tickets for the program. It was slated to begin at 6 in the evening but the program was officially started as early as 5:45 PM with some performances and talks.
There were 10 giant lantern entries this year from different barangays of San Fernando: San Jose, Calulut, San Pedro, Del Pilar, Sta Lucia, San Juan Nepomuceno, Del Carmen, Telabastagan, San Nicolas and Dolores. They were judged basically based on craftsmanship and synchronization of lights and sounds. The first round of the competition was letting each barangay to showcase their lantern and was followed by the showdown where all entries were broken down into 3 groups. Last part of the competition was the simultaneous lighting of the lanterns and synchronizing with the live accompaniment of a band.
I was thrilled by the entry of San Jose maybe because it was my first time to see the great lanterns of Pampanga. They started the competition great which was followed by greater and more spectacular performances from the other entries. At the end of the first round, my favorites were: San Jose, Sta Lucia, and Telabastagan.
During the second round, the competition tightened as every barangay wanted to win the event and tried to outcast their neighboring barangays. Del Pilar, San Juan Nepomuceno, and San Nicolas stood out during the second round. For the final showdown, I had a hard time selecting my own favorites since all of them were really stunning. At the end, I settled with Del Pilar, Sta Lucia and Telabastagan for my final choices.
We went out of the venue after the last round and we’re wandering inside the mall when they announced the winners:
2nd Runner-up: Sta Lucia
1st Runner-up: Del Pilar
Giant Lantern of 2013: Telabastagan
It was really a unique experience to join the Giant Lantern Festival of San Fernando City, Pampanga that I was able to enjoy the creativity and wit of the people as seen on the dancing lights and colors of their “parols.” This also made me appreciate the efforts exerted by the city people in developing and preserving their Christmas traditions started even centuries ago.
The annual Giant Lantern Festival is being held at Robinsons Starmill in San Fernando Pampanga. You can get there by taking any Victory Liner bus bound to either Olongapo, Iba or Sta. Cruz in Zambales.