Photo by Keith Bacongo from Wikipedia, with Creative Commons license.
Have you seen the recent Christmas ad from Disney? ‘From Our Family to Yours’ is a heartwarming ad that centers on a family with Filipino heritage. The three-minute film focuses on the strong bonds shared by family.
It starts off with Christmas in the Philippines in 1940. The setting is a lovely street filled with houses decorated with star lanterns. A father comes home and gives his daughter a Mickey Mouse plushie. Then it skips to 2005, where the little girl is now a grandmother (lola in Filipino) who is living in another country with her young granddaughter. The doll is still there and the granny teaches her how to make the Christmas lanterns. It shows how the years pass with the granddaughter losing interest in making the landers and the Mickey Mouse doll losing an ear.
The story reaches its climax when the now older girl heads out leaving her grandmother alone during the Christmas season. When she returns home, the girl sees the gloomy house and the earless doll. She surprises her grandmother the next morning by filling their house with the star lanterns. The grandmother briefly reminisced about the 1940 scene with the street-filled with star lanterns. The granddaughter also surprises her by fixing Mickey’s ear.
The ad is part of the campaign that re-introduces the vintage Mickey plushie with proceeds to be donated to Make-A-Wish Foundation.
You might not know it, but while watching the ad you were looking at a quintessential Christmas tradition in the Philippines. The star lantern is a unique tradition that is seen in Filipino homes during the holidays. They also adorn lamp posts and public spaces. We call it a parol and for many Filipinos around the world, Christmas just isn’t complete without these bright, colorful beauties.
The tradition is believed to have begun during the Spanish colonial period in the Philippines. In the 1830s, religious processions were held with various shaped lanterns that represented Christian traditions. The procession in honor of Our Lady of La Naval or the Blessed Virgin Mary featured cross lanterns, fish lanterns, and more.
It wasn’t until 1908 when a salt vendor from Pampanga created a gigantic Christmas star which the townsfolk called a parol -- deriving its name from the Spanish word farol, which means lantern. It represents the biblical story of the star that guided the three kings to the manger during the birth of Jesus Christ.
The parol was originally made with bamboo sticks, Japanese paper and lit with candles. Families often make this together to celebrate the start of the holiday season. Over the years, it has become much easier to buy pre-made ones that use different materials such as the capiz shell, popular for its durability and translucent surface.
In Pampanga, where it all began, they still hold an annual event to celebrate the parol. Known as the Christmas Capital of the Philippines, it is home to the yearly Giant Lantern Festival -- a competition of larger than life colorful star lanterns from different parol makers.
Today, the humble parol comes in a variety of shapes and sizes but the basic construction is the same --it is a star shape that can hold a light source inside. It is still easy to DIY and make together with your family.
If you’re interested in making your own parol at home, here are the materials and steps for making one:
What you’ll need
- 10 equally sized flat bamboo sticks (wood crafting sticks such as pllieay would be a good option to use)
- 5 equally sized shorter sticks to be used as spacers or you can use dowels
- A pair of scissors
- Rubber bands
- Glue stick
- Glue gun
- Semi-transparent colored paper such as Japanese paper, crepe paper, or even cellophane or acetate
- Battery-operated light
How to make it
- Pair up the sticks so you have 4 pairs and an extra set of 1 stick each. For each pair, secure one end together with a rubber band so it makes a V-shape
Parol Step 1 Illustration owned by article author Jade-Ceres Munoz
- Get 2 pairs and intersect them so that the outer edges of each pair are now together and are forming the top of your star. The two inner edges of the pair should be sticking out.
Parol Step 2 Illustration owned by article author Jade-Ceres Munoz
- Weave one bamboo stick horizontally through this figure and connect each end to the edges that are sticking out. This should form a star shape.
Parol Step 3 Illustration owned by article author Jade-Ceres Munoz
- Do another star shape with your remaining 2 pairs and extra bamboo stick. Using a glue gun, stick your spacer or dowels to the middle points that intersect (the pentagram shape in the middle of the star. Attach the other star shape to the ends of the dowels so the two stars are now parallel. Bend the bamboo sticks slightly and attach the ends of the star together (the 5 points of the star).
Parol Step 4 Illustration owned by article author Jade-Ceres Munoz
- Glue your Japanese paper around the exterior of the star -- starting from the middle, work your way out and cover all sides. Do this for both sides of the star, leaving the middle one of one side open so you can put in a battery-operated light inside. (Traditionally, the light inside would be a candle, but for fire safety, we now use battery-operated lights).
Parol Step 5 Illustration owned by article author Jade-Ceres Munoz
- Add your string to the top of the star so you can hang it.
- You can decorate the bottom points of the star with paper tassels.
There you have it! You now have a traditional Filipino parol or Christmas star to decorate your home for the holidays.