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What is the story behind the Christmas parol?

Extravagant light displays, carols, and the overall vibe of high spirits. Anywhere you look, you can feel that Christmas is just around the corner. And who does Christmas better than Filipinos? As one Tagalog song goes, “Ibang iba talaga ang pasko sa ‘Pinas!” 

Christmas in the Philippines is packed with traditions—Noche Buena, Simbang Gabi, caroling, the much-anticipated puto bumbong. But of all these, one surely stands out and reflects the Filipino way of celebrating the season: the parol.  

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The Star That Guides

The colourful Baclaran Church front door in Baclaran Parañaque for the first “Simbang Gabi”. Devotees believe that completing the 9-day series of Masses will fulfill their requests. ( Jun Ryan Arañas )

The iconic parol is a reminder of the star of Bethlehem that guided the Three Wise Men on their search of baby Jesus. It does not only uplift the spirits of everyone, it also instills a sense of pride and hope for the Filipinos. The parol also serves as a guide—literally!—because it was initially used to light the way to church during the nine-day Simbang Gabi or Misas de Aguinaldo. After coming home from the Mass, the lanterns were hung outside the house to illuminate the whole village. Soon, people devised different designs that were admired by passersby. 

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Spanish Origin

The origin of the parol can be traced back during the Spanish era in the Philippines, when the Spaniards brought Christianity to the land. The name came from the Spanish word “farol” which translates into “lantern” and later on became “parol” for the locals. It is believed that Francisco Estanislao, a local artisan, in 1928 made the first parol out of bamboo strips and Japanese paper. 

The parol has now become a major part of the Philippine Christmas celebration, making it the most recognizable Christmas symbol for Filipinos not just in the Philippines, but in other countries as well. While this simple lantern made of paper and a bamboo frame has evolved into different amazing and kaleidoscopic shapes, one thing remains the same: its message of light and hope still touches the hearts of many Filipinos.


Text by Mark Baccay. 

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