Giant Lantern Festival 2008

At last, after several hours of touring as much of San Fernando, Pampanga as we could, it was time to head back to Robinson’s Starmill Pampanga for the Giant Lantern Festival 2008. This would be the 100th year of this annual tradition, and it’s one of those things that you often read about, but is infinitely more awesome when you’re actually there.

(Be warned: This entry is stuffed with pictures, so if you have a slow connection… be patient. I certainly hope it’s worth the wait!)

The festival, known as Ligligan Parul in Kapampangan, has evolved into a competition, and this year, it has attracted entries from nine barangays: San Jose, San Nicolas, San Pedro, Del Pilar, Telabastagan, San Juan, Sto. Nino, Dolores, and Sta. Lucia. Each entry competes in three rounds judged by an international panel of judges (seriously, there were representatives from Japan and the UK, among other countries).

The show was actually scheduled to begin at 6:00pm, but knowing how quickly free public events fill up, we were there at 5:00pm. Even in daylight, the giant lanterns – also known as parol in Filipino and parul in Kapampangan – were sights to behold.

Giant Lantern Festival 2008

These man-made marvels were pretty even in daylight. And when they said that these were Giant Lanterns… they weren’t kidding. Each lantern was as approximately as tall as a full-sized truck, or even larger. And the electrical mechanisms that were manually used to control how the lights dances did fill an entire truck.

Giant Lantern Festival 2008

5:00pm was early enough for me to be able to behold these wonders in the daylight and see the intricate detailing on each giant lantern. I also got to pick a spot that seemed to be a good one, so I could see each and every parul on display. The grounds weren’t packed yet, but after about an hour, that changed pretty quickly.

Giant Lantern Festival 2008

Giant Lantern Festival 2008

I was early enough to catch the media people setting up, as well as the various performers rehearse and set-up before the show. Because this was the 100th year of the event, I was sure it was going to be a big show.

Giant Lantern Festival 2008

The event was going to be simulcast on a major regional network, so it was definitely a big deal. Unfortunately, as we would find out later, this meant we would be subjected to hosts’ on-air banter, not to mention regular commercial breaks. We were actually positioned right behind the news crew, so that was… interesting.

Giant Lantern Festival 2008

Giant Lantern Festival 2008

6:00pm came and went, and we were no closer to the start of the Giant Lantern Festival. Everyone was getting restless and impatient, though I, for one, more or less expected it. The crowds were starting to fill in, which led to even more restlessness and impatience. Finally, at roughly 7:00pm, the show began.

Or should we say… the live telecast began. The actual show was being held up by commercial breaks, “witty” banter, and some cultural presentations, though the latter was actually kind of cool. Too bad they were being largely ignored by an audience who was there specifically for the giant lanterns, and have been waiting for it for a couple of hours.

Giant Lantern Festival 2008

Finally, at approximately 8:30pm, the show began. There was a brief delay because the mall took a while to shut down all the lights, which was needed to give the lanterns the full effect. After what seemed like eternity, the lights went out, and the show began.

In the first round, each entry was given six minutes to “dance” to a song or medley of their choice. The six-minute-rule was strictly enforced: Towards the end of the routine, there was a 10-second countdown, after which the music would simply stop.

First up: San Jose. Their display included a belen (Nativity Scene), and the message “Love Mother Earth. Save Life. God Bless.”

San Jose, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

San Jose, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

The lights were definitely awesome. This was the first giant lantern I ever saw, and it definitely blew me away, particularly with how bright it was.

San Jose, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

San Jose, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

Up next was San Nicolas. Among their gimmicks was Santa on his sleigh being led by his reindeer, with the word “Go!” at the bottom.San Nicolas, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

On top was another message: “Pasko Na!” (“It’s Christmas!”)

San Nicolas, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

San Nicolas, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

Another gimmick was the Baby Jesus at the center, flanked by angels and stars, and the word “Kapayapaan” (“Peace) at the top.

San Nicolas, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

And of course, it finished with a dazzling display of bright lights.

San Nicolas, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

The next entry was from San Pedro.

San Pedro, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

San Pedro, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

San Pedro, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

As always, the colors were dazzling!

San Pedro, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

San Pedro, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

Up next is Del Pilar. They honored the Ligligan Parul tradition by placing a giant word “Parul” at the top. Later in their display, they also had a lights representation of the world.

Del Pilar, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

Del Pilar, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

Del Pilar, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

Another heartwarming message their parul made was “One World in Peace” (which prompted the globe).

Del Pilar, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

By the end, residents of Del Pilar launched some balloons which carried a message that I couldn’t quite read.

Del Pilar, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

After that was Telabastagan, last year’s champions.

Telabastagan, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

Telabastagan, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

Telabastagan, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

Telabastagan, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

There was such a variety of colors that it was awesome to behold.

Telabastagan, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

Telabastagan, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

Just like most of the other entries, the lights were extremely bright, and illuminated the entire crowd.

Telabastagan, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

The entry’s biggest gimik was a section in the center of the lantern that opened up to reveal an image of either the Holy Family, or the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Telabastagan, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

At one point, they also released a few doves with a light attached to each one. You could clearly see where the doves were, as each had a sparkling blue or red light on it.

Telabastagan, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

And for the finale, they wished us a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Telabastagan, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

The next entry was from San Juan, and they wouldn’t let us forget it, because their chosen music piece kept repeating “San Juan” over and over again.

San Juan, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

San Juan, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

San Juan, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

The entry also seemed enamored with the color red, as there was an entire stretch of their presentation that was just… red.

San Juan, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

The next entry is from Sto. Nino, and their entry included a giant representation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at the center.

Sto. Nino, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

Sto. Nino, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

Sto. Nino, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

Sto. Nino, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

Sto. Nino, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

Up next was the entry from Dolores, which opened their presentation with some fireworks.

Dolores, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

Their entry also featured a middle section that opened, this time revealing the city seal of San Fernando.

Dolores, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

Unfortunately, from our vantage point, the entry from Dolores was blocked by some lighting equipment. The lighting equipment was right in the middle of our view of their giant lantern, so if you see a strange black shape in the pictures… those would be the lights.

Dolores, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

Dolores, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

Dolores, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

Last but not the least was the entry of Sta. Lucia. It was unique because it opened up with an image of a Christmas tree. There seemed to be a lot of paneling and such that shaped the Christmas tree on the lantern’s face.

Sta. Lucia, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

Of course, all this was just leading up to the Big Reveal: The entire lantern would open up to reveal a more traditioal parul.

Sta. Lucia, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

You can actually see the open panels in the succeeding pictures.

Sta. Lucia, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

Sta. Lucia, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

There was yet another layer of paneling, which they closed to reveal their Christmas message in the finale.

Sta. Lucia, Giant Lantern Festival 2008

And with that, Round One was completed. With nine entries at six minutes each, plus brief gaps between entries, the entire round was completed in approximately an hour.

In Round Two, the entries were randomly divided into three groups. Each group would then be assigned a random sampling of music that’s five minutes long. All three lanterns in the group would then make their lanterns light up and dance to the music. All this was done impromptu, because nobody has any idea what their music piece would be.

The first group was composed of the entries from San Jose, San Nicolas, and San Pedro. (I took videos of this round instead of pictures.)

The second group was composed of the entries from Del Pilar, Telabastagan, and San Juan.

The final group included the entries from Sto. Nino, Dolores, and Sta. Lucia.

Finally, in Round Three, all nine entries would make their giant lanterns light up and dance while a live brass band played. This was a throwback to the earlier years of the competition, when all the giant lanterns would just go on at the same time. It was an awesome spectacle of lights and sound that rivals the Las Vegas casinos at night.

Giant Lantern Festival 2008

Unfortunately, we left at this point, in order to beat the traffic and crush of people who were going to leave Robinson’s Starmills Pampanga, so we missed a few more cultural presentations, the announcement of the winners, and the fireworks display. According to Sun Star, Telabastagan won the grand prize, while Del Pilar was second, and San Nicolas finished third.

It was an awesome experience, over-all. It’s nice to witness something that you’ve only seen in books, magazines, and television, particularly something that happens only once a year. It’s a “you had to be there” moment; pictures and videos would never effectively capture the energy and excitement and wonder of actually being there.

I definitely enjoyed my San Fernando, Pampanga experience, and I hope to be back to watch Ligligan Parul again next year. And with that, my account of my San Fernando trip comes to an end.

You can check out my pictures of this year’s Giant Lantern Festival at my Multiply gallery.