The Christmas lantern or parol is one of the most-loved Christmas decorations in the Philippines, and there is no better way to experience them in all their dazzling glory at the Giant Lantern Festival.
Held in the city of San Fernando, Pampanga, the Giant Lantern Festival (known as Ligligan Parul by the locals) is celebrated on the Saturday before Christmas Eve each year. This spectacular event is the reason why the province of Pampanga is recognized as the Christmas Capital of the Philippines.
This year, the Giant Lantern Festival will be held at Robinsons Starmills on December 17, 2011 and will feature huge parols representing the different cities and towns in Pampanga.
A Brief History of the Giant Lantern Festival
The Giant Lantern Festival is said to date back to the early 1900s with the Lubenas, a religious event. During the Misa de Gallo—a nine-day novena Mass leading up to Christmas—locals would carry parols measuring about 2 feet in diameter around every barrio. These lanterns were then brought to the town church before Christmas Eve for them to be blessed by the priest.
The First Giant Lantern Festival
When former Philippine President Manuel L. Quezon made the town of Arayat his home, and converted this into a tourist destination, the locals decided to hold the very first Lantern Festival as a way of saying thanks. At the center of the festival is a parol making contest where the winner received an award donated by the President and his First Lady, Aurora.
Bigger and Better thru the Years
Since that time, the Giant Lantern festival has evolved in terms of design and the materials used by the parol makers. Instead of the traditional papel de Japon and bamboo used in the first parols, the different parols that will be showcased in the festival will be made with colored plastics, metal rotors, and thousands of different light bulbs.
The size of the parols constructed to compete in these events have also become more and more massive. Today, the average size of an entry at the Giant Lantern Festival measures an average of 40 feet in diameter, weighs over a ton, and takes an entire year to complete. The parols are so huge that each parol requires at least 50 people just to lift them up and haul them into a 6×6 truck so that it can be transported to the competition venue.
Getting to the Giant Lantern Festival Venue
The Robinsons Starmills is located near the San Fernando Exit at the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX). You can either bring your car or take a Victory Liner bus which will drop you right at the entrance.
While You’re in Pampanga
Since the best time to enjoy the Giant Lantern Festival is in the evening when all the parols are lit up, this gives you lots of time to go around and experience their other treasures.
Shopping at HILAGA Pilipinas
Formerly known as Paskuhan Village, HILAGA Pilipinas was launched in 2003 as the best place to get a glimpse of the different local crafts found in the different northern provinces of the Philippines segregated in the different exhibit halls based on their region. It’s located near the San Fernando Exit, and just a stone’s throw away from the Giant Lantern Festival.
HILAGA Philippines also has a Nature Sanctuary complete with a bird park and a botanical garden where you can relax and unwind.
St. James the Apostle Church
The St. James the Apostle church is commonly referred to as Betis Church after the name of the barangay in Guagua where the church is located. Completed in 1770, this massive, pink-colored church is one of the great examples of Baroque-inspired architecture in the Philippines.
What makes the Betis Church a popular tourist destination in Pampanga is what you find the moment you step inside. Betis Church is often referred to as the “Sistine Chapel of the Philippines” because of the intricately-painted ceilings, which are believed to be the work of a man named Simon Flores. The paintings depict various scenes from the Bible and have been done in such a way that when you look at them, they almost appear as 3-dimensional images.
Kapampangans pride themselves on their culinary skills, which is why Pampanga is also known as the Culinary Capital in the Philippines.
One of the places to experience the local fare here is at the Everybody’s Cafe, located in San Fernando. Here, diners get to experience a unique style of dining locally called turo-turo where you choose whichever food catches your attention by pointing at it (hence the name). The food is then plated and served to you at your table.
One of the unique things about Everybody’s Cafe is that it is one of the few restaurants in the Philippines that gives you a chance to sample exotic dishes like stuffed frogs, sauteed crickets, and braised pig’s tongue. The unique-bordering-on-bizarre food selection captured the interest of many travelers and has been featured in various travel shows like Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods.
Where to Stay During the Giant Lantern Festival
Although it is possible to travel back to Manila after the Giant Lantern Festival, it can be quite an ordeal especially with the traffic brought about by the Christmas season. If you choose to stay for the night, here are some hotels to choose from:
Located about 18 kilometers from the Giant Lantern Festival venue, Maharajah Hotel offers superior hotel accommodations. Each guest room is equipped with private bathrooms, flat screen TVs with premium cable channels, direct dial telephone with voicemail and free WiFi access. Amenities at the hotel include an outdoor swimming pool, airport shuttle services, and a 24-hour front desk that will provide assistance with laundry and car rental services.
Located inside the former Clark Air Field Base, Affinity Condo Resort offers guests spacious accommodations that will make you feel like you’ve come home. Each room is fitted with a kitchenette, dining and living areas, free WiFi access, and a mini bar. During their stay, guests can enjoy a variety of services and amenities offered by the hotel like an outdoor swimming pool, on-site restaurant with room service, concierge services, airport shuttle service, free parking, and massage services.
Located in Angeles, Hotel V is an affordable hotel that offers deluxe accommodations that come with flat screen TVs with premium cable channels, private bathrooms, free WiFi and complementary breakfast to guests.