CHRISTMAS CAPITAL: THE MAKING OF THE GIANT LANTERNS

by - 4:13 PM


An award-winning show and even just a simple production number require a lot of rehearsals, conceptualization and meetings.  The Giant Lantern Festival of San Fernando, Pampanga is one event that exemplifies such preparations.  On what appears to be a simple spectacular display of lights and designs of lanterns’ presentation, knowledge on its mechanics and technical details would make one marvel at its ingenuity.

The exquisite intricacy and meticulous details of how these giant lanterns light up is truly a craft of passion.  I am more than fortunate for the opportunity of being able to witness the making of these world-class giant lanterns of San Fernando, Pampanga.


The Giant Lantern Festival (Ligligan Parul) is an annual festival in San Fernando, Pampanga participated by almost all barangays of the city.  In this tour of ours, we were given the opportunity to visit three of the award-winning participating barangays for this annual competition.


Colorful bulbs of more than ten thousand in number intertwined in innumerable wires were the composition of these giant lanterns.  The standard size of a lantern is twenty (20) feet in height and the pattern of lights depends of the artist’s creativity flowing from the genius mind to execution itself.

the rotors
Large steel barrels called rotors manipulate the lights.  How the rotor works?

“Hairpins, attached to the end of the wires leading to each individual bulb, connect the lights to the rotors, which in turn, is connected to the source of electricity.  Strips of masking tape are placed on the metal rotor to serve as light switches.  As the rotor is turned, the hairpins pass through the strips of masking tape.  When a certain hairpin hits a strip of masking tape, the current to a specific set of bulbs is temporarily cut thus switching off that particular set of bulbs.  When that particular hairpin regains contact with the steel barrel, the bulbs are again lit.”

There is a standard process for the making of these giant lanterns.  Yet the definition of a standard is not that easy to emulate.  Steps to follow nevertheless, includes:

1. Visualize, Sketch and Trace
This the most crucial part in the making of the giant lantern.  The artist/designer visualizes the play of lights on his head without any visible material as reference.  It’s all written in the head. (what a genius I should say).
Then, the time table of production, materials to be used and the number of people to work on the lantern is considered.  As the master plan is finished, it is now scaled and traced down on the ground.  Chalk or pencil is usually used when marking design on the floor.   
2. Weld the Frames Together
After the frames are done, welders take on the meticulous task of putting the pieces together.  This process requires precise welding of the frame with designing of the layout done twice.  In order to compensate the width of the lantern and to provide enough space to load the bulbs and electrical wiring, the two lantern frames are welded together with ample distance from each other. 
3. Compartmentalize
“Kulong” as the lantern makers call “compartmentalization” is done by putting cardboards in between steel frames.  These serve as the walls of each lantern compartment and these allows lights to go in one specific place when lit up therefore dictates the shape and design of the lantern. 
Brgy. San Nicolas' giant lantern in the making


4. Let It Shine 
The putting of “palara” or shiny paper similar to that of an aluminum foil is the next step.  This process is done in order to enhance the brightness emitted by the light bulb.  The “palara” paper provides a bouncing light effect inside each lantern compartments therefore further heightens the luminance of each light bulb. 
details of Brgy. Sta Lucia's giant lantern
5. Prepare the Light Bulbs

One of the most painstaking tasks that lantern makers do is the preparation of the bulbs.  Giant lanterns have a minimum of 3,000 bulbs.  During the preparation of the bulbs, the group must first clean each bulb to remove traces of colors.  They also test if they aren’t busted and then, the preparation of the electrical wirings follows.  
6. Install the Light Bulbs 
Preparation of the bulbs is done simultaneously steps (4) and (5).  Once the fifth stage is done, installations of the bulbs take place.  Each lantern maker places the bulb in each compartment and strictly adheres to the design patterns made by the designer.  An average number of four bulbs are placed in each lantern compartment following a specific design plan and sequence.  The color of the bulbs corresponds specifically to each color requirement of the designer. 
electrical wirings of Brgy. Telabastagan's giant lantern

7. Connect the electrical wirings 
Upon the installation of the light bulbs, the process of connecting the electrical wirings takes place.  The electrician must carefully line up the electrical wires that are going to deliver electricity from the rotors and generators.  Each light bulb is connected to a specific line for one specific color and movement.  
8. Wrap It 
As electrical procedure happens at the back of each lantern, the front side is covered with paper.  Lantern makers cover the face of the lantern with transparent sheets of paper as well as sheets of paper cutouts to further add intricacy to the design which adds an effect on the overall display. 
9. Let the Rotor do the magic. 
The rotor considered as the mind of the giant lantern is the Kapampangan innovation that dictates the play of lights and how it is going to move across the lantern.  A lantern designer should be able to work alongside a good rotor maker to produce a spectacular play of lights.
what a rotor is made of

Complicated? Without a doubt, it is.

San Fernando City of Pampanga would not be dubbed as the Christmas capital of the Philippines for nothing.  With such world-class design of lanterns and display of lights in an unusual and innovative means, a look of the said lanterns would never be the same again for me.

In relation to the making of giant lanterns, we had the chance to witness how the skill of lantern making is honed in the city through a visit at the City College of San Fernando.  Even at an early age, these students are trained to be skilled in the art of lantern making.  Made of recycled materials and instilled artistic senses, a world-class lantern is produced.  As imparted by Eric Quiwa, designer for Barangay Sta. Lucia, as early as high school, he has been designing lanterns and visualizing how the display of lights can be showcased.  While other normal teenagers are into something, a genius such as Mr. Quiwa is into an activity that will make us all proud of a Filipino talent.

Mr. Eric Quiwa and the rotor of Brgy. Sta. Lucia
students of the City College of San Fernando



Kapampangan's do love to eat - maybe the reason for this design?


The city of San Fernando also holds an Inter-village Christmas décor competition.  We are fortunate to have visited Safer Village, one of the contenders for the said competition, where a cup of hot chocolate and rice cakes were served to visitors including our group.  The spirit of Christmas amongst the neighborhood is truly felt – a mark of the Filipino tradition.



And back to Filipino tradition, the hanging of lanterns for the Christmas season is inevitably a part of it.  But are you aware that there are identified parts of a giant lantern?  The central area is known as the tambor; the edges known as pontetas; palimbum as the kaleidoscope part of the lantern and siko-siko as the diamond-like part edges.

identify the parts of a parol - it's a quiz!




The large tarpaulins covering these lanterns were removed not only for us to view the aesthetics design but of the intricacies and meticulous details of how grand and world-class the Giant Lanterns of San Fernando, Pampanga are.

You May Also Like

0 comments