‘The Parol Lantern Festival is uniquely Filipino’

The “parol” is a symbol of hope, blessing, luck, and peace for many Filipinos.  Parol making is a long-held tradition in the Philippines.  The parol brightensmany Filipino homes, establishments, and community centers in the Philippines and in many overseas Filipino communities.

“Atin ito” (This is ours), as my friends would say whenever they talked about the parol.  This is true.  Evenif the star may be a universal symbol for many nations, including the United States, and is seenin many commercial and industrial logos, the five-point star Christmas parol lantern is uniquely very Filipino.

Here’s why.  Lantern festivals have an Asian origin and there’s actually a yearly lantern festival among the Chinese. The heart of the celebration of the Chinese New Year holiday is the Yuan Xiao or Lantern Festival.  It is believed to have started over 2000 years ago.  This festival has now evolvedand has developed many meanings among celebrants, from family reunions, teaching good virtues to children, seeking good fortune and luck, to developing solidarity in our society.

Among the Vietnamese, and in most Chinese communities in Southeast Asia, a popular practice of celebrating the Yuan Xiao holiday (which also known as the harvest festival) is by carrying brightly lit lanterns, by lighting lanterns on towers, or by floating sky lanterns.  This celebrationwas inspired by the full moon and is usually held on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar.

But most of their lanterns are round unlike the Filipino lantern which is a five-point star.  This is the reason why the parol is uniquely Filipino and we know it in our culture as the“Filipino Christmas Star Lantern.”  The inspiration for this shape is the religious and spiritual tradition of the Star of Bethlehem and the Story of Nativity.It was the Star of Bethlehem that led the Three Kings to Jesus’ home where they worshipped and gave him gifts.

When my friends launched the Filipino lantern festival in San Francisco 16 years ago, they first named the event asthe “Parol Festival.”  Many non-Filipinos got mixed-up as “parol” sounded like “parole” which refers to the temporary and conditional release of prisoners.  When the signs and banners for the festival were released and posted at the Bayanihan Community Center on 6th Street in 2003, some people who came to the event wondered why there was a “festival for parolees.”From them on, the organizers changed the name of the festival to “San Francisco Parol Lantern Festival.”

The festival has now evolved into a fun-filled family and community event and this year is the 16th year of the festival. It has given the SoMa neighborhood a reason to get together and to celebrate Filipino culture and this event serves as a unifying force for the different organizations who come together for one day every year to showcase their strength asa community.

The annual parol lantern festival is very significant in the SoMa Pilipinas community because it is a showcase of Filipino cultural heritage.  It is one of the reasons why the San Francisco Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution making SoMaa Filipino cultural district in 2016 and the State of Californiathen followed suit and selected SoMaas one of the 14 cultural districts in California in 2017.

The parol lantern festival is also more than a celebration.  It is also a reflection of the history of the South of Market communitywhich has long been a site of resistance against community displacement.

Come and join us this Saturday, December 8, 2018 from 5pm-8pm
at Jessie Square (Mission Street and Yerba Buena Lane) in San Francisco for the Parol Lantern Festival to celebrate SoMa Pilipinas’ gift to the San Francisco Bay Area community.

Jojo Liangco is an attorney with the Law Offices of Amancio M. Liangco Jr. in San Francisco, California.  His practice is in the areas of immigration, family law, personal injury, civil litigation, business law, bankruptcy, DUI cases, criminal defense and traffic court cases.  Please send your comments to Jojo Liangco, c/o Law Offices of Amancio “Jojo” Liangco, 605 Market Street, Suite 605, San Francisco, CA 94105 or you can call him (415) 974-5336.