The golden man of parol

Aika Rey

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For a parol maker in San Fernando, Pampanga, lanterns usher in the season of love

PAMPANGA, Philippines – For many Filipinos, seeing parols (lanterns) means that Christmas is just around the corner. But for a parol maker, it is his bread and butter.

Ernesto David Quiwa, 70, spent most of his life making parols in the City of San Fernando in Pampanga. (READ: Christmas, parol makers, just around the corner)

“Parang hindi ako makatulog o balisa ako ‘pag hindi ako gumawa ng parol. Parang napapanaginip ko ‘yung Star of Bethlehem,” he told Rappler. (I can’t sleep or I feel upset when I don’t make lanterns. I sometimes dream of the Star of Bethlehem.)

Quiwa has been making parols for 53 years. He said the spirit of Christmas keeps him going.

“Sa akin, mahalagang mahalaga ang paggawa ng parol dahil ang aking inspirasyon ang ating Panginoong Hesus… ‘Pag walang parol, parang hindi masaya ang buhay ko. Kaya siguro kita ‘nyo, 70 years old na ako pero malakas pa,” he said.

(For me, making lanterns is very important because my inspiration is our Lord Jesus Christ… If I don’t make parols, I feel like my life is not complete. Maybe that’s why even if I’m already 70 years old, I am still strong.)

On his 50th year of making parols, he was awarded by the local government as the “Golden Man of Parol – San Fernando.”

Runs in the blood

Parols have been around the country since the 1900s.

Traditionally, these were made out of bamboo strips and colored paper. 

Parols come in various shapes and sizes, but the basic 5-point star pattern remains the dominant design.

The first parol in the country was made from bamboo and Japanese paper by artisan Francisco Estanislao, Quiwa’s great grandfather, in 1908. According to him, his family has been in the business of making parols since then.  (READ: PH X’mas symbols, practices trace roots to Spanish era)

Quiwa said that nobody taught him how to make parols. Rather, he feels like it runs in his blood. “Walang nagturo sa ‘kin dahil ang paggawa ng parol mula pa sa kanunuhan namin,” he said. (Nobody taught me because making parols started with our predecessors.)

 GOLDEN MAN. In his 50th year of making parols, Ernesto “Tang Erning” Quiwa was awarded the Golden Man of Parol – San Fernando. 

He said that over the years, his family has been improvising new designs and gimmicks for their craft. Since Estanislao’s first parol, his grandfather, Severino David, made the first lantern lighted by batteries. (READ: Elements of a Filipino Christmas)

In 1957, the family of lantern makers upped their game by inventing a “rotor,” which serves as the “brain” of a parol. Invented by Rodolfo David, rotors are huge metal cylinders that allows the lantern to dance in different combinations of colors and sounds.

For his part, Quiwa started joining lantern-making competitions since he was 17 years old. In 1966, his craft was diplayed at the Manila Summit Conference – an event that made him decide to invest his time and energies in making parols.

“Noong 1966, ginawa ko ‘yung dinisplay sa Malacañan during the Summit Conference in 1966 na pinagawa ni Imelda Marcos at dinisplay mismo sa loob ng Malacañan. Doon pinuri ni US President Lyndon Johnson ‘yung parol na yari sa Pampanga,” he said.

(In 1966, I made the lanterns displayed at the Malacañan during the Summit Conference in 1966 that was ordered for Imelda Marcos. It was there when US President Lyndon Johnson commended the lanterns made in Pampanga.)

Home of Giant Lanterns

Quiwa’s lantern is now a household name for many Kapampangans.

With his craft, he was able to raise his 5 children – all of whom finished different professions but decided their hearts are into parol making as well.

Quiwa has been joining and winning lantern-making competitions both in the Philippines and abroad. But the Ligligan Parul or the Giant Lantern Festival in the city is what he watches out for every year. (READ: These 7 places in PH shine bright and beautiful every Christmas)

 GIANT PAROLS. The Pampanga Provincial Capitol, located in San Fernando City, is lighted in Christmas colors ahead of the holidays. 

The Ligligan Parul usually coincides with the Simbang Gabi, the 9-day Masses before Christmas. Since 1908, it has been celebrated every year, except during the Martial Law years.

Quiwa said that he has retired from making lanterns, but the Del Rosario village in San Fernando has no entry for annual Kapampangan festival. He lives in Santa Lucia village but he said he’s happy to lend a hand since his brother is supervising their village’s entry anyway.

“Gusto kong ibalik ‘yung kapanahunan noong early 80s na marami akong naturuan na lantern maker. Kanya-kanya na silang negosyo ngayon. Kaya itong lugar naming ito, tinawag nilang The Home of Giant Lantern,” Quiwa said.

(I want to bring back the time during the early 80s where I was able to train lantern makers. They have their own businesses now, that’s why our city was called The Home of Giant Lantern.)

Dying craft

Giant lanterns are the pride of San Fernando but not many from the younger generation in the city are as skilled in making lanterns.

On Saturday, December 16, San Fernando City government held the Ligligang Parul. A total of 10 barangays competed for the best giant parol award this year, with Barangay Dolores bagging the P150,000 grand champion award. (READ: IN GIFs: Giant Lantern Festival winners in San Fernando, Pampanga)

Quiwa was the lantern-maker Barangay Del Rosario – the village’s first time to join the festival.

“Kung hindi ako nakapagturo, noong early 80s, sino pa ang gagawa ngayon? Wala na. Kaya ‘yun lang ang maipagmamalaki ko. lalong lalo na ngayon.” (If I was not able to train in the early 80s, who will make now? Nobody. That’s what I can boast about, especially now.)

 DYING CRAFT. Quiwa wants to train the youth in making lanterns to save the tradition he lived with.

Quiwa said that his only wish is to train the youth on making parols so that they can continue the tradition:

“Ang nais ko sana kay Mayor or sa City government na kami ay mag-train ng mga kabataan para matuto sa mga parol na ito. Kasi kung hindi natin gagawin ito, mawawala na lang ang giant lantern festival dito sa siyudad ng San Fernando.”

(My wish for Mayor or the City government is that they allow us to train the youth to know how make lanterns. If we don’t do this, the Giant Lantern Festival will die in the City of San Fernando.)

“Ang parol kasi ang ibig sabihin niyan pagmamahalan. Kapag nagsabit ka ng parol sa iyong bintana, pinasisinayan mo ang kapanganakan ng Panginoon. Ang ibig sabihin no’n pagmamahal dahil kasi nakiisa ka dahil sa selebrasyion ng Pasko,”

(The meaning of lanterns is to give love. Because when you hang your lantern in your window, you are one with the birth our Lord. That means “to love” because you are one in celebrating Christmas.)–

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Aika Rey

Aika Rey is a business reporter for Rappler. She covered the Senate of the Philippines before fully diving into numbers and companies. Got tips? Find her on Twitter at @reyaika or shoot her an email at