by Marla Yotoko Chorengel
The Parol is perhaps the paramount Filipino Christmas symbol. The word parol derives from the Spanish word farol, meaning “light”. Filipinos place much significance on the symbolism of light, the star being regarded as a fount of light, and a sign of hope.
There is a fascination with a continuous flame that flickers like a candle. This flame, which first guided Filipino Catholics to churches at dawn for the Misa de Gallo (Mass of the Rooster) was placed inside a star-shaped paper lantern called parol. (Today, the incandescent bulb has replaced the candle.)
The five-pointed star lantern represents the star of Bethlehem which, as the New Testament tells, led the Three Kings to the child Jesus lying in the manger.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.’
After they had heard the King they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.”
Moreover, the star refers to the Messiah himself: “A Star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.” (Numbers 24:17)
The parol is a native innovation of the Mexican piñata which originated from 14th century festivals of Renaissance Italy, known for festive décor hanging from windows. Also, pots filled with sweets were suspended in mid-air from ceilings , and broken for delighted participants who scrambled to collect the fallen goodies. From Italy, the custom spread to Spain, then to Mexico, and eventually, to the Philippines.
During the yuletide season, parols are seen throughout the country. “No Filipino home is without one,” goes a local saying. And another, “Rare is a ruralist who can not make a star lantern.”
Parols sold in Metro Manila are usually made in the towns of Las Piñas in Rizal, and San Fernando in Pampanga.
To construct the simple traditional parol, bamboo sticks (ten long, and five short pieces) are joined together with string in the shape of a star. Rice paste is used to glue the colorful papel de japon (Japanese paper) to the framework. A tassel “tail” (or two) is attached to the star lantern—inviting conjecture that, perhaps, the Star of Bethlehem was a comet. Regardless of astrological fact, the “tail” on the parol is a beautiful embellishment.
Today, the simple parol has evolved into spectacular shapes and kaleidoscopic splendor , but its message of light and hope remains the same to the Filipinos.
Source: From the book Pasko! The Philippine Christmas, National Bookstore Inc. and Anvil Publishing Inc., 1998