Sunday, 8 December 2013

CHRISTMAS ESSAY: The ‘parols’ in ancient Parang

The traditional parol which continues to dazzle onlookers despite its simplicity. - Websitepic

The traditional Philippine lanterns called parol adorn the Philipine Center on Fifth Avenue between 45th and 46th Streets. The term "parol" is derived from the Spanish word "farol" which means lantern. - Wikipedia


IMAGINE Parang, that lovely hacienda village of my youth, 60 years ago: Houses, then fewer, all made of nipa, bamboo and split lumber, sandy neighborhood roads, house yards fenced-in by bakawan and bangyasan wood; tall ancient coconut trees and bushes lording it over the entire hacienda, a herd of free-range red cows and sheep frantic in fleeing a bunch of crazy dogs, a flock of white ducks (pato) and chicken marching across the village road, a couple of native pigs feeding by the roadside, a fish-woman carrying on her head a bilao of sap-sap and galunggong freshly caught from the nearby Mambulao Bay, wives and husbands gossiping by the gate of their neighbor’s bakuran, their kids chasing one another amidst a cloud of dust their bare feet had stirred up in the process.

And at Christmas time, Parang was even lovelier!

It was during those times when homes were illuminated with only kerosene lamps and the parols hanging by the windows glowed as if for eternity from the tiny flame of candles fixed inside the native lanterns, a risky bit, to say the least, but the spirit of Christmas enshrined in every home was more than enough reason to ignore the risk, at least during the festive season.

And the spectacle of a parol radiating in brightness in front of many windows was something just short of how Rizal had described the parols in the homes of Filipinos during the Simbang Gabi in his classic novel Noli Me Tangere.

With street lighting still unheard of in my childhood village during the early 50s, thus making the whole neighborhood pitch-black at night, a parol by the window was likened to a giant star exploding its glory in the inky night.

Adorning windows with parol fleshed in red, white, yellow or blue papel de japon was a tradition boosted by the local school whose children were each tasked to build his or her parol as a class project.

And so, just before the school would close for the Christmas break, which is usually a week before Christmas Day, you would see schoolchildren -- those in grades 4, 5 and 6 -- carrying as they walked the dusty village road to school at poblacion their just-completed Christmas lantern of varying sizes, shapes and designs to school for a final display during a Christmas program.

And later as had been expected year after year, all of these lantern projects would soon pop on windows of every home in the village.

It was during this occasion when my father would be at his best – that is building my lantern. It would take him at least two nights (he worked in the iron mines in Larap in the day time) to complete my lantern project fashioned out of thin bamboo strips and papel de japon.

Our favorite lantern design was one with pointed centers and the five extended star points would be joined together by a hoop. 

The edges were then embellished with feather-like ruffles made from “papel de japon” and the entire setup is punctuated with the so-called palawit or pabuntot (tails) in red or white.

After my teacher had evaluated my parol for which it would be given a grade ranging from 85 to 95 (usually it earned a 95 for fine craftsmanship, courtesy of my dad!), I would take it home for hanging at our porch.

The two other windows that faced the village road directly had already been adorned with a “parol” each which father had earlier built.

This affair of parol building had gone on until I was finally in my high school years; and this time, i had taken over from father the job of constructing one and that by this time, almost all homes in Parang had electricity.

Although during those day houses were a bit far in between, separated by big gaps of vacant lots which were otherwise covered with bushes and grass, every home did not feel lonely, alone or isolated on the lot where it sat, thanks to the parol in every window that kept the family company all throughout the holiday season.

It was a breath-taking sight for a little boy like me to see them sway in unison to the breeze blowing from the nearby mountain and from the bay, as if singing a chorus of the season’s carols.

Those parols had also played another job aside from illuminating every homes’ windows at night: they became icons carried by a group of young men and women – the carolers – who made rounds of the village to serenade the village families with Christmas tunes.

The parol’s sighting as it moved along the village roads would forewarn every homes that the carolers were coming and that the family should be ready with something to part with them – either cash or foodstuff.

I was a little older but still in the grade school when I joined a group of carolers led by my elder cousins.

Winding up at past midnight having done with our affair that night, we divided among ourselves the night’s take.

And for me, the money and foodstuff that I received as my share were something I bragged about to my friends at school the next day.

So joining my cousin’s caroling group had become my nightly activity till Christmas season was over.

I haven’t witnessed how Christmas had been in my childhood village since I stayed permanently in Manila from 1973. 

But one thing sure is that things have change a lot ever since Parang became a mecca for settlers and migrants from other parts of Bicol region who looked for jobs and new ties.

Over the years, Parang has transformed into a bustling community that it is now – crowded with houses that only very few open spaces could be seen across the former hacienda village.

But the permanence of parol as a fixture among Parang homes during the holiday season – as in the old days -- could not be doubted.

From the time the first parols hung on the windows of Filipino homes during the Spanish times to the present-day Philippines, this Christmas icon will continue to awe us not because of the evolution it went through over the years but because of the joy it brings to our hearts.

Looking back 60 years ago, the parol of my youth – the good old fashioned parol -- continues to shine – inside my head – and persists in warming a heart that refuses to age.


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  1. Great article-! Thank you Sir-! I'm one Pinoy who loves our traditional Pinoy parol and used to make lots of it as a kid in the 70's....