Ours are bigger than yours. The rich plains of Pampanga and their abundant harvests point to the traditional illustriousness of this province. Pampanga seems to thrive on bigness -- from the sinful richness of its food offerings to the expansiveness of its old ancestral homes. The same can be said of its Parols (native Christmas lanterns) which are way beyond big; call them monstrous instead, each requiring a generator of its own and a truck to mount and transport it. If the idea of how big these lanterns still escape you, consider these numbers: at least 7,000 full-sized bulbs and hundreds of meters of electrical wires are used for each parol with some taking almost a year to plan, design and construct.
A hundred glittery years. 2009 is a special year for the Kapampangans as lantern-making celebrates its centenary in the province. It was in 1908 when Francis Estanislao of San Fernando started to make parols. It would take another 22 years before a formal festival was mentioned in the historical records. Save for the years 1978-79 when the festival was cancelled due to Martial Law, the festival was part and parcel of the local holiday celebration. Along the way, giant lanterns would garner recognition even from outside the country, being exhibited in Seville, Spain for the World Expo in 1992 as well as winning first place as part of the Philippine float that participated in the Hollywood Christmas Parade.
Everybody wins. Nine barangays participated this time around. The venue was the car park of the Robinsons Starmills in San Fernando. We didn't have tickets to the VIP section (and there weren't any sold, we learned from an usher; these were distributed to guests as early as October) nor passes for the media stage so we braved mixing in with the crowd and positioning ourselves as early as 5.30pm. Typical of Pinoy presentations, the show started one hour late at 8 with quite lengthy choir serenades, speeches and audio-visual presentation. By the time the first round rolled around, it was mayhem at the place where we were but never mind. My personal favorites were Barangays Dolores, San Jose and Sto. Niño with their tasteful designs and skillful choreography. But nevermind who wins, I think it's the crowd and the Kapampangans who are the real winners in this festival.
Postcript: Barangay Dolores won first place; Telabastagan, 2nd; and San Jose, 3rd; Barangay San Pedro's entry made history by using fiberglass instead of plastic.
Info: The Pampanga Giant Lantern Festival opened last Saturday, Dec. 19, at the Robinsons Starmills, in San Fernando, Pampanga. To go via public commute, ride the bus headed for Baguio or Olongapo, passing by San Fernando (Victory Liner rate: P99; travel time from Cubao: about one hour) • Attribution: the City of San Fernando website