Cebu parol makers, vendors struggle to keep Christmas tradition alive

John Sitchon

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Cebu parol makers, vendors struggle to keep Christmas tradition alive

PAROL MAKER. Dario Caballes, 61, has been making parols with his brothers since he was 14 years old.

John Sitchon/Rappler

Families in Cebu still keep alive the tradition of making Christmas parol, even at personal costs

CEBU, Philippines — The Caballes family, natives of Barangay Guadalupe in Cebu City, has made thousands of Christmas star lanterns or parol since the late 1970s.

Back then, orders for their well-crafted parol were piling up as early as October. These were usually from families in the city, offices owned by government agencies, and even churches all over the province. 

The Caballeses, of course, were happy to oblige since this would translate to reaping a humble fortune by December and a certain kind of joy from satisfying the holiday needs of their customers. 

The work was divided among the members of the family – be it cutting wood, crafting the star’s bamboo frame, or wrapping the lantern with colored sheets of paper. Every parol was a genuine family product.

Most of their income during this period would go to their children—for toys and, for their education in the future. 

Those were the good old days, said Efren, the 65-year-old patriarch of the clan.

But times have changed, the parol maker said. Now, fewer people come to buy his family’s parols.

Sauna sa Nobyembre pa, kana among mga parol hurot na pero karon, daghan pa kaayo (Back then in November, our parols would be sold out but now, there’s still so many),” Efren told Rappler on Saturday, December 2.

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TRADITION. For more than 45 years, Efren Caballes and his relatives have made parols for Cebuano families.

Ironically, the family received more orders during the pandemic and Typhoon Odette than they did this year. The parol maker estimated their previous total profits at around P30,000. 

Efren said that the rising costs of goods had affected the spending habits of his usual patrons, and consequently, increased the costs of making parol.

In the past, Efren would only need P20 to buy a single long log of bamboo, which would be enough to craft 200 parol frames. Now, Efren said, the price of the log is up to P300 with each of parol selling for P260.

According to Efren’s brother, Dario, they must rely on bulk orders from clients to keep them afloat for the holidays.

Times change

Much like the parol makers, vendors of this distinctly traditional Filipino Yuletide decor are also doing their best to get by these days.

For more than 25 years, Joy and Dante Nable have made it customary to sell parol along Gorordo Avenue, near the Lahug Elementary School, during the Christmas season.

Unlike previous years, Joy’s rows of multi-colored parol for display are still hanging from their makeshift stall instead of being bought out one by one by their usual customers.

Daghan muorder sauna pero dili na karon tungod sa mga mahal nga palitonon (A lot of people used to order from us but not anymore because of the expensive cost of goods),” Joy told Rappler on Friday, December 1.

The vendor said that their buyers from schools like Lahug Elementary have stopped visiting them, because decorations, like parols, were no longer allowed inside classrooms.

“I used to earn more than P7,000 (in a day), but now, it’s P2,000 at best,” Joy said in Cebuano.

The vendors would normally set P30,000 as capital and earn double the amount at the end of December. But this time, Dante said, they can only hope for at least a profit of P5,000.

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PAROL. Dante Nable and his wife Joy wait for motorists to park by their stall along Gorordo Avenue in order to sell their Christmas parols.
A tradition to keep

After more than four decades of making parol, Efren hoped that his grandchildren and their children would continue the craft that he and his brothers honed to help the family.

“The parol has helped us. Everything the family needs, it provides,” Efren said in Cebuano.

Joy and Dante, on the other hand, said that they wanted only what was best for their children whom they have managed to raise by doing what their family knows best.

If they had the capital, Dante said, they would try another business. Still, the vendor acknowledged that they have made themselves known to many consumers in Barangay Lahug.

Despite the current challenges they are undergoing, both the Caballeses and Nables agree that crafting and selling parol is their family’s tradition and one that they must keep. –

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