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Xmas Lanterns Twinkle in Manila

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Published on Nov 10, 2008

Times may be hard globally, but Christmas preparations are in full swing in the Philippines. The parol, a star-shaped Christmas lantern is taking central stage these days. Let's take a look.

STORY:
The Christmas decor of choice in Catholic Filipino homes is the "parol". The star-shaped lantern can be homely in simplicity or dizzying in complexity.

The materials used range from transparent colored cellophane to lustrous mollusk shells from the central Philippines.

The Filipino parol represents the star of Bethlehem which, according to Christian lore, guided three wise men to the baby Jesus Christ, born in a Bethlehem stable.

[Flor Alonso, Regular Parol Buyer]: (filipino, female)
"The feelings are different when you decorate with a parol, and it's really nice to see a unique set of Christmas lights."

But since the global economic crunch, many people are reusing older lanterns, so parol stall owners are feeling the pinch.

Riza Hispano has run a parol store for the past eight years. To keep costs down, she doubles up as an electrician and repairs any defects in the lantern lights herself.

And even though her customers want special bargains, she can't afford to drop her prices.

[Riza Hispano, Parol Stall Holder]: (filipino, female)
"We simply can't sell at low prices, because we have to earn a living too. That's what we remind our customers nowadays. Even if they insist on getting a lantern for a very low price, we can't afford to because the materials aren't cheap."

The earliest parols from 19th century colonial times were built from bamboo sticks and crepe paper using a coconut-oil lamp as a light source.

A small or medium sized parol takes two people a whole afternoon to make. While a lantern four feet across or larger would need around two days to complete.

We spoke to "Nanay" who has owned a handmade parol-making shop for the last five years.

[Permina Menes, Parol-making Shop Owner]: (filipino, female)
"A parol is meant for a home. It's an ornament, the kind that will attract people. So they say, 'Hey, that lantern looks beautiful in that house.' Especially jumbo, the really big ones."

For a lot of Filipinos, making a parol is a statement of hope, a guiding star in its own right.

[Esther Bernos, Parol Buyer]: (filipino, female)
"It's already customary for us to hang parols during this season. Not really the very expensive ones, but just to show that we can spread good cheer during Christmas despite the global crisis."

And so may the parol tradition go on.

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