These handcrafted star lanterns are a symbol of the holidays in the Philippines and Hawaii

San Fernando City in Pampanga province, about 90 minutes north of Manila, is the Christmas capital of the Philippines.
Published: Dec. 25, 2022 at 10:53 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 26, 2022 at 12:37 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - You may have seen homes with a special star-like Christmas decoration called a parol. It’s a Filipino star lantern traditionally made of bamboo and Japanese paper, lit with candles or lamps.

Modern elaborate versions use sea shells welded together with light bulbs and LEDs.

HNN visited one of the world’s largest parol makers to learn about the art.

San Fernando City in Pampanga province, about 90 minutes north of Manila, is the Christmas capital of the Philippines because of its popular Giant Lantern Festival competition

”One lantern consists of about 10 to 12,000 bulbs unlike before it was only 1000 or 2000 bulbs,” said master parol maker Roland Quiambao of Rolren’s who won the event four years in a row.

The Christmas lantern is modeled after the Star of David, the Bethlehem star.

Parols were used in religious evening processions leading up to Christmas. They come in all colors, sizes and geometric designs with various blinking light patterns meant to be a guiding light during the holidays.

Parols are made across the Philippines, but the ones in Pampanga have the most intricate designs filled with symbolism.

“The inner circle we call the tambor or from the colloquial word the tombol or bass drum. Bass Drum because there’s a rounded shape. Then the main star, we call it sico sico because sico is the angle of your arm. This is sico, elbow. It shaped like a star. Third one surrounding the stars. We call it palimbon, limbon in Kapampangan is procession because limbon is going around the city town proper. And they put another design over here. We call this puntetas from the root word punta or dulo. The outer layer,” explained Quiambao. “The Kapampangan are elaborate. The they try to outdo each other.”

Quiambao learned the art from older masters and has been making parols for more than 50 years. He’s working to preserve the tradition by teaching young people through paid apprenticeships.

“We make it an alternative learning system for the students who have a low academic grades, we try to ask them to go here,” he said.

Parol makers create a design and in the workshop, workers cut shapes out of capiz shells -- which come from a native mollusk known internationally as the Windowpane Oyster. The shells are durable and translucent.

Workers then hammer brass linings around the shell pieces, which are welded together based on the design. The lantern is then painted.

Electrical workers put in the bulbs, LEDs and wiring.

A parol straight from the factory starts at about $25, but buying them in Hawaii can cost about $300 or more depending on the size.

A tradition worth preserving for many Filipinos in Hawaii who hang them in their homes, shining a light of joy for Christmas and hope for the new year.